Barmeshwar Singh, the “Mukhiya”, was possibly the last diabolic figure associated with the lumpen social construct known as the Ranbir Sena. Under his tutelage, the Sena was not only involved with several massacres and mass killings, but was possibly also the principal organisation that attempted to stall social democratisation and social tranquility in the state. He was killed early Friday morning in the Bhumihar-dominated Katira Mohalla in Ara, the headquarters of Bhojpur, which is one of the most prosperous districts in Bihar.
The Ranbir Sena was essentially an unwarranted extension of Sahajanand Saraswati’s movement. Saraswati led a peasant movement to dismantle “permanent settlements” in Bihar. Bhumihar tenants, who formed the bedrock of the peasant movement, not only eclipsed traditional landlords within their ranks politically, but also led the green revolution (which remains incomplete in Bihar) to garner some economic power. But later, while many former tenants became landlords in the post-Independence era, the forces of democratisation spearheaded by socialist, communist and radical organisations eroded their political space substantially. Further, they were also economically disadvantaged in the absence of state patronage for the development of agriculture. The Ranbir Sena was the product of the political marginalisation of the landlords and the falling rates of return from agriculture. While the landlords had no control over burgeoning input costs, they could only deal with the declining rates of return from agriculture by reducing the legitimate share of agricultural labourers in the revenues generated. This could be operationalised by forming militia from amongst former Bhumihar tenants, by employing extreme right-wing and racist rhetoric. The Ranbir Sena was established in September, 1994 in Belaur village, Udwantnagar block in the Bhojpur district, and was named after Ranbir Baba, a retired military man who protected the rights of the Bhumihars against the Rajputs about a century ago.
The formation of such Senas was almost a signature for a backward state like Bihar. With no functional state government to speak of, its role was usurped by these social militia, which were essentially based on caste identities. The state had several Senas apart from the Ranbir Sena, such as the Kuer Sena, the Sunlight Sena, the Brahmarshi Sena, the Savarna Liberation Front, the Bhoomi Sena and so on.
While most Senas were merely local outfits, the Ranbir Sena had a much wider presence. The Ranbir Sena was also the best organised among all the Senas, and had the surreptitious patronage of the powers that be. It was a well-oiled machine with global financial patronage. Earlier, ruling and opposition parties had united to support the Ranbir Sena in a clandestine manner on many crucial issues. Its firepower and organisational strength could be gauged by the fact that it had organised 32 massacres in Bihar, killing 275 subalterns in the state. One can find a close parallel between the Ranbir Sena and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) — a racist, white supremacist organisation that flourished mainly in the southern region of the United States in the late 1860s. The KKK reinvented itself from time to time, propagating antediluvian ideas; its central goal was stalling civil rights movements for African Americans, and preventing them from becoming autonomous entrepreneurs.
The Ranbir Sena was, in some sense, the Bihari version of the KKK. Ranbir Sena cadres would organise massacres with impunity. For example, in Bathani Tola, the Ranbir Sena organised a massacre of 20 women and children on July 11, 1996. The organisers of the massacre were convicted by a lower court under the present regime; however, their hold over the legal system was revealed when a higher court vacated their conviction. The immediate motive for the murder of Barmeshwar Singh is unclear. It may be a retaliatory strike against the Bathani Tola judgment or personal enmity that triggered this killing. But someone who lives by the bullet also dies by the bullet.
However, Barmeshwar Singh “Mukhiya” as a phenomenon had been eclipsed over the past seven years. Given the presence of a functional state structure, the need for a Sena to mediate in social problems has disappeared. The authority of the state has been established in a decisive manner, and the state’s development agenda has also been unfolding. The agriculture sector has been an important contributor to the Bihar growth story during the present dispensation’s second stint in power. Apart from irrigation, seeds and fertilisers, land management was crucial for agricultural growth. With the marginalisation of the Ranbir Sena, the state government was comparatively better placed to face the challenge posed by land management. The killing of Barmeshwar Singh, however, disturbs this scenario and is a bad omen for the state. The agent provocateur that eliminated Bihar’s principal villain may have done it to bring the state back to its earlier days of annihilation and anarchy.
The writer is member-secretary, Asian Development Research Institute, Patna