Bhagar Yadav, part of the folklore crime world of Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh, was on the run for three decades; he ultimately surrendered before the Superintendent of Police of West Champaran District of Bihar, K.S.Anupam, after a sumptuous feast at the residence of his mistress, Sunarpatia Devi. The surrender was not without drama. His slogan shouting retinue under the leadership of his son, Amar Yadav, the former Chairman of the Zila Parishad, provided the ‘feel good factor’ to him during those momentous hours. In contrast to the high profile signature tune of surrender of a man, whose letterhead for extortion demands was stamped with BIHAR SARKAR, JUNGLE PARTY, only two members of his gang went to goal with him. The modesty was revealed further in the matter of arms also. Contrary to expectations, the range of weapon from his armory, which was part of the surrender deal, was only one carbine, one single barrel gun and one rifle.
Even though the surrender of Bhagar appeared to be comical in terms of human or weapon inventory, it is an epoch making event for the state administration. In India, if the state is considered to be ‘soft’, it used to be considered to be ‘pulp’ in Bihar till recently. Even during the British period, the reach and authority of the state was limited in the region. In the last sixty years, even the remnant of relatively weak British authoritarian state structure in Bihar had withered away. However, in the last two and a half years, authority of the state as an independent agent is being established. The triad of legislature, judiciary and executive has converged to restore the non-existent ‘law’ and elusive ‘order’ situation in the state. The immediate result of this convergence was the dramatic increase in the conviction rate, where even ‘law makers’ from the ruling party were not spared. This had clearly impacted the crime graph of the state; the surrender of a person like Bhagar, with independent power and social base, was yet another proof of the might of the state administration.
The phenomenon of Bhagar, however, should not be equated with the electoral democratization of polity in Bihar which has acquired unmatched empowerment. The empowerment is not necessarily a natural corollary of enlightenment. The global or national experience suggests that enlightenment precedes social movement and banishment of feudalism. In Bihar as a whole or in Champaran, neither social movement nor concerted effort to break feudal structure was attempted. The old Champaran District, the birth place of George Orwell, is now divided between East and West, and it was the home of some of the biggest beneficiaries of ‘Permanent Settlement’ (Zamindari), like Bettiah Raj and Ram Nagar Raj. Leakages from the Estate administration could be so staggering that even managers of some of the Estates could acquire massive amount of land and ultimate social hegemony, like the Dewanjee of Sikarpur Estate. The story of crime, brigandage and primitive accumulation was thus embedded in the social structure of the district. Bhagar is essentially a product of this.
Except for the Bettiah Raj, other Estates had clear lines of succession. Consequently, the Bettiah Raj came under the ‘court of wards’, and this mammoth Estate became the object of accumulation and greed, earlier by the pre-independence administrators and later by our indigenous governing elites. Fallow land of Bettiah Raj in Sathi was distributed amongst the elite, instead of landless, for various considerations in the early fifties. A huge amount of land was settled with a notorious Excise Commissioner infamous for the molasses scam, for matrimonial consideration of his son with the adopted daughter of the then Chief Minister. On the other hand, Bipin Biharee Verma, the Manager of Bettiah Raj, who scripted most of the primitive accumulation and leakage, had direct patronage of the first President of India, through matrimonial network. When this blatant major scam was detected in Bihar, Sardar Ballabh Bhai Patel forced the leadership of the state to return the land acquired through stealth, through the Sathi Land Restoration Act in early fifties. This bill was possibly first of its kind in the state where organised institutional loot was undone through legislative measure. However, the judicial court later nullified the act and restored the land to the original buyer putting seal to this diabolic transaction. The entire transaction was written in a book named ‘Bapu Ke Saputo Ka Raj’ by Chandradeo Sharma. This book, published by Chand Press, Jahanabad was banned by the then Government of Bihar.
The plunder and loot of Bettiah Raj continued unabated. With the change in the power structure in the last two decades, the social base and sophistication of primitive accumulator has also changed. What could not be done through institutional mechanism earlier, had to be done through brute force now. The character of landed elite also changed to trading elite, who had substantial interest in sugar cane production and sugar cane industry. This new elite coopted and promoted several henchmen from the subaltern background. In the guesthouse of Udaipur Jungle, built originally by Bettiah Raj, now patronized by the new elite, innovation of kidnapping industry was given shape under the supervision of an IPS officer of Andhra Pradesh cadre posted in the district in the early eighties. This move was fully supported by one former Chief Minister from the district. Kidnapping got precedence, as dacoity was not considered to be a risk free operation. Bhagar started his career as a cattle guard from the Udaipur Jungle, where he fine-tuned his kidnapping skill. Over the years, he diversified his accumulation, apart from eyeing the left-over of Bettiah Raj. He now controls cultivation of about 10 thousand acres of diara land, ghats, contracts and levies the incoming and outgoing goods of the region. In case of subaltern, they emulate the traditional elites. In case of Champaran, the pattern of primitive accumulation was not only same but even the object of accumulation was identical, for both criminals of traditional and subaltern elite.
For the first time in Bihar, state is emerging as an autonomous social mediator. The numerous power centers which functioned independently in Bihar, are now slowly capitulating before the authority of the state. Bhagar’s surrender has to be seen in this broader social matrix. If this pattern continues, the legitimacy of the state in Bihar will further increase.
* Member Secretary, Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI), Patna