Above: Bihar CM Nitish Kumar/Photo: UNI
A 28-year-old murder case comes back to haunt Bihar CM Nitish Kumar even as he entertains hopes of playing a national role in the forthcoming general election
By India Legal Bureau
The wheels of justice are known to grind very slowly. But turn they do, although in many cases the wait may involve years if not decades. On January 31, 2019, a full 28 years after a case of murder was registered against Nitish Kumar, the Patna High Court reserved judgment on the Bihar chief minister’s petition seeking quashing of cognisance taken against him with the chief minister’s counsel informing the Court that the case was nothing but “political vendetta”.
The Court has not indicated a specific date for pronouncement of the judgment, but an early—and adverse—verdict could spoil the carefully crafted plans of the Bihar Janata Dal (U) leader to take upon himself a larger role in national politics in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections.
The case that has come back to haunt him after nearly three decades relates to the murder of a Congress worker, Sitaram Singh, on November 16, 1991, while repolling was being held in some booths during the elections to Barh Lok Sabha constituency in Patna district. The next day, an FIR was lodged by Ashok Singh, who claimed to be a relative of Sitaram, in which he accused Kumar and several others of hatching a conspiracy to kill Sitaram. Kumar was the Janata Dal candidate in the contest which he went on to win.
The FIR, a copy of which is in the possession of India Legal, states that “Sitaram and Rajaram along with known people had gone to cast their vote in the elections. At the east of the polling booth, the group saw Nitish Kumar, a candidate of Janata Dal, Yogendra, the then Mokama MLA, Dilip Kumar Singh, Dularchand Yadav, and Baudhu Yadav, along with other criminals armed with pistol, rifle, and gun. Suddenly, Nitish, with a deliberate intent of killing Sitaram, fired at him. Sitaram died on the spot.” According to complainant Ashok Singh, four other persons—Suresh Singh, Mauli Singh, Mannu Singh and Rambabu Singh—were injured in the incident. The court of then Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate (ACJM), Barh, Ranjan Kumar, had issued summons to Kumar and Dularchand Yadav under Section 202 of the CrPC. The summons were issued on the basis of statements by two witnesses, Ramanand Singh and Kailu Mahto.
The case thereafter was to take a lot of twists and turns.
- January 31, 1993—Police claim they completed a probe into the case after which they submitted a report, rejecting the charges against Kumar and another accused. Lalu Prasad Yadav was then chief minister.
- August 5, 2008—The ACJM of Barh accepted the police report and exonerated Kumar, who had by then become chief minister.
- January 20, 2009—A protest petition was filed in the ACJM’s court, challenging Kumar’s exoneration.
- April 22, 2009—The Patna High Court ordered a stay on further proceedings in the case at the ACJM’s court, following an appeal against the latter’s orders by one of the charge-sheeted accused.
- August 31, 2009—The ACJM took cognisance of the protest petition filed in January and ordered summons against Kumar. The Court said: “Prima facie case for the offence under Section 147, 148, 149, 302, 307 IPC and 27 Arms Act is being made against both the accused persons for which cognisance is taken against them. Office clerk is directed to issue summon for the appearance of the accused person.”
- August 31, 2009—The ACJM took cognisance against Kumar and Dularchand and directed the accused to appear before the Court on September 9, 2009.
- September 8, 2009—Kumar moved the Patna High Court against the cognisance and succeeded in securing a stay on the lower court’s order on proceedings on the protest-cum-complaint petition.
- October 28, 2009—The High Court also issued a showcause notice to the ACJM to explain why the order of stay passed by the High Court earlier was violated.
- May 15, 2010—The High Court admitted an application by Radhe Krishna Singh, who claimed to be Sitaram’s brother, challenging the previous High Court order that had stayed the cognisance against Kumar.
- January 31, 2019—The High Court reserved judgment on Kumar’s petition seeking quashing of cognisance taken against him in the murder case. Kumar and his party referred to the case as a matter with political overtones and vendetta, unleashed by the opposition.
In the years since, the case has come in handy for Kumar’s detractors to target him with former ally-turned-bitter foe Lalu never sparing an opportunity to hit out at Kumar. In his inimitable style, Lalu once tweeted: “Bihar has a murderer in whose stomach there are teeth. He has bitten several leaders and political parties and the poor with his poisonous teeth.” In another tweet, the RJD leader said, “…under Nitish, Bihar has the dubious distinction of seeing a state whose self-declared patriot CM faces grave charges of murder.”
While Kumar awaits the High Court verdict, some respite has come his way from the Supreme Court on a PIL that was an offshoot of the Barh murder case. In July 2017, ML Sharma, a Delhi-based lawyer, had filed the PIL in the Supreme Court seeking cancellation of Kumar’s election to the Bihar Legislative Council on the ground that he had allegedly concealed the pending criminal case against him in the affidavit he filed before the Election Commission. Sharma also claimed that Kumar had hidden his criminal records while filing election affidavits since 2004, except in 2017.
In September the same year, in response to the notice from the apex court, the poll body submitted that the chief minister was obliged to disclose any criminal record against him only after cognisance of an alleged offence was taken by a magistrate. He had made such a declaration in the prescribed form in 2012, the commission said, and also pointed out that no such disclosure was required to be made by Kumar post-2012, as he had not contested any election since.
In May last year, the apex court dismissed Sharma’s PIL, saying it was “devoid of any merit”. Sharma, who has a reputation of being a “serial petitioner” filed another PIL, seeking a CBI investigation into the alleged manipulation of Kumar’s election affidavits and charged the chief electoral officer of Bihar of aiding the chief minister. He pulled in the Election Commission and even the Prime Minister’s Office as respondents. The court slammed the advocate while throwing out the PIL. Earlier the central Election Commission, too, had called the PIL “frivolous”, “based on incorrect facts” and “without any cogent evidence”.
Nitish is without doubt a charismatic leader and an efficient administrator but he knows his hopes of playing a pivotal role in the forthcoming pre-and post-poll arithmetic will depend to a large extent on what the Patna High Court has to say on the nearly three
decade-old murder case.