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15.09.2016
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Even before the coalition government in Bihar completes a year in office, it is facing fissures from within—for the moment entirely on account of Mohammed Shahabuddin, a former MP with a string of convictions to his name.

His claim to fame is that he is a close associate of former Bihar chief minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) boss Lalu Prasad. But he is in the news for dubious reasons.

Convicted for assaulting a police officer and serving out his sentence, he was granted bail in a string of cases on 7 September.

Immediately after release from Siwan jail, Shahabuddin launched a scathing attack on Bihar CM Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal United, or JD(U), an ally of Prasad. “For me,” said Shahabuddin, “Lalu Prasad is the leader and Nitish Kumar is the CM circumstantially.”

And Lalu, according to news agencies, condoned the remarks, sparking off a confrontation with Kumar.

It was during Kumar’s previous stint, when he allied with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to govern Bihar, that Shahabuddin was convicted. At the time, it was orchestrated as a symbolic end to the so-called ‘Jungle Raj’—the lawlessness associated with Prasad’s tenure as CM.

Shahabuddin’s rise began after Prasad first became CM in 1990, when he was elected as an MLA. The association between the two continued when Shahabuddin was returned to the assembly in 1995 and elected as an MP a year later. In 1997, when Prasad formed the RJD, Shahabuddin joined the party and contested two more general elections successfully.

The 49-year-old politician is a four-time MP from Siwan in Bihar and two-time MLA from the same constituency.

There were several cases pending against him, and these were reopened when Kumar became CM in 2005.

He was granted bail by the Patna high court on 7 September in a case involving the murder of an eyewitness. In a chilling incident, two brothers were killed in Siwan in 2004 in an alleged acid attack, while a third—an eyewitness in the case—was shot dead in 2015.

Shahabuddin was arrested in November 2005 from his official residence in Delhi. At that time, he had at least eight non-bailable arrest warrants pending against him, mostly relating to the seizure of foreign-made firearms, ammunition and unaccounted foreign currency during a raid on his house in Pratappur, Bihar, in April 2005.

More was to follow.

On 30 August 2007, he was found guilty of involvement in a 1997 gun attack on Siwan superintendent of police Sanjiv Kumar Singhal. Because of his conviction in the criminal case, Shahabuddin was barred from contesting the 2009 general election.

However, his wife Heena Shahab was given a ticket to contest the election, which she lost to an independent candidate. In 2014, she lost to the BJP candidate.

According to New Delhi-based Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), a nonprofit organization, Shahabuddin’s affidavit revealed that he had 19 criminal cases registered against him till 2004. The strongman from Bihar completed his post graduation in 1994 and doctorate from B.R. Ambedkar University, Muzaffarpur, in 2003.

Clearly, Shahabuddin has emerged as Kumar’s first political test of how he will manage his political relations with his testy ally, Prasad.

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