With painstaking effort, I had managed to establish communal harmony in Bihar, a state which had been riot-torn as a result of the incompetence of previous regimes. As many as 1,500 people had been killed in the riots in Bhagalpur in October 1989 triggered by the RSS-BJP’s Ramsheel Puja procession. The rioters had demolished 250 villages in and around the silk city, with the victims being mostly Muslim weavers. The state had many other communally sensitive places like Bihar Sharif, Sitamarhi, Hazaribagh, Jamshedpur and Ranchi, which had witnessed intermittent communal disturbances through the 1970s and 1980s. Muslims all across Bihar had then been living in constant fear, and were disenchanted with the Congress governments in the state and at the Centre. Angry with the Congress for its failure to check the mayhem, the electorate had collectively voted for the Janata Dal in the 1989 Lok Sabha and the 1990 Assembly elections in the hope that we would restore communal peace and ensure safety and security for them.
Thus, establishing communal peace was the biggest challenge, and priority, after I became the chief minister. One of the first announcements I made after taking charge was: ‘Chahey mera raj rahega ya jayega, hum dangaiyon ko chhodengein nahin’ (Whether my government lives or falls, I will not spare the rioters). Bihar had not witnessed any communal disturbance after I had become chief minister. I had been on a mission to bridge the divide between the Hindus and the Muslims.
Now, that harmony was being threatened. Advani’s plan was pregnant with the grave possibility of driving Bihar back to 1989. The wounds of the Bhagalpur riots were still fresh. Advani’s Ram Rath Yatra was scheduled to pass through the state on its way to Ayodhya. Soon after the BJP leader announced his programme, I went to New Delhi to meet him personally. I said bluntly, ‘Aap danga phailane wala yatra rok dijiye. Bahut parishram se humne Bihar mein bhaichara kayam kiya hai. Agar aap danga yatra nikaliyega, toh hum chhodengein nahin!’ (You must drop the Yatra plan, which is aimed at fuelling riots. I have managed after a great deal of effort to restore brotherhood in Bihar. If you don’t stop the communal march, I won’t spare you.)
Though I was candid, I spoke politely to him in the one-on- one meeting. But Advani—who is sober and soft-spoken—became infuriated. He said, ‘Dekhta hoon, kaun mai ka doodh piya hai jo mera rath yatra rokega’ (Let’s see which person who has had his mother’s milk can stop my chariot). I then shot back, ‘Mainey ma aur bhains dono ka doodh piya hai... Ayiye Bihar mein batata hoon.’ (I have had the milk of my mother, as well as of a buffalo... Come to Bihar to see what I can do.)
After this brief altercation, I left New Delhi and returned to Patna. As per his plan, Advani embarked on his Ram Rath Yatra from Somnath in September 1990. His Yatra left communal tension in its trail in Gujarat. Tension gripped many states, including UP and Bihar, as Advani’s procession continued from Somnath. As it entered Dhanbad in Bihar from Madhya Pradesh in October 1990, I called Prime Minister V.P. Singh twice, asking for his permission to arrest Advani. The Prime Minister was silent on both occasions. Perhaps he was in a fix, for his government was dependent on the BJP’s support for survival. I then called up the deputy commissioner of police (DCP) and the SP of Dhanbad, and directed them to arrest Advani there. But the officials refused, citing the possibility of a communal flare-up. Left with no choice, I put in place an effective plan to arrest the BJP stalwart in a closely guarded manner. His Rath Yatra was to reach Samastipur in north Bihar on 9 October 1990, and proceed towards Ayodhya the following day.
Book cover: Gopalganj to Raisina: My Political Journey by Lalu Prasad Yadav Source: Rupa Pulications
I was clear in my mind that Advani’s Yatra was a direct and real threat to the minority community and to communal harmony. Having made up my mind, I called a meeting of senior state officials in the bedroom of my house. The Principal Secretary to the chief minister, Mukund Prasad, and others were in attendance. I said that the Yatra had to be stopped and Advani as well as other Sangh Parivar leaders such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) stalwart, the late Ashok Singhal, were to be arrested. My directive was greeted with pin-drop silence. Perhaps they were discomfited at the thought of creating obstacles in the way of a procession named after a religious deity.
The initial plan was to arrest only Advani in Sasaram. A helicopter would be sent there to fetch the detained senior BJP leader. I even called up the pilot and informed him about the idea. I told the people at my bedroom meeting to keep the plan under wraps. Yet, it was leaked and Advani altered his route. It was then decided to detain Advani in Dhanbad. However, as mentioned earlier, administrative officials there refused to do so on grounds of law and order.
It was time for Plan B. I summoned an IAS officer, R.K. Singh (now BJP MP from Arrah and Minister of State (IC), Power and New and Renewable Energy, in the Narendra Modi-led government) and Deputy Inspector General (DIG)-rank IPS officer Rameshwar Oraon, to my 1, Anne Marg residence and discussed the modalities with them. I then called the state chief secretary, home secretary and other senior officers concerned, and issued a special order on the evening of 9 October, empowering R.K. Singh and Oraon to arrest Advani at Samastipur. After signing the special order, I asked the chief secretary, the home secretary and other officials to remain at my residence, and ensured that they had no telephone facilities. I was in no mood to have the plan leaked yet again. I asked R.K. Singh and Oraon to proceed to Samastipur with escorts from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and arrest Advani in the wee hours on 10 October. I ensured that even the DM and SP of Samastipur did not get a whiff of the plan. I asked the government pilot, Captain Avinash, to take the state helicopter to Samastipur. The early morning arrest was to ensure that people remained blissfully unaware of the incident till much after Advani had been taken away from the place.
Despite the secrecy, a few RSS-BJP acquaintances had wildly guessed that I might get Advani arrested. They came to meet me on the evening of 9 October and enquired, ‘Do you have any plans to arrest Advani?’ I glibly said, ‘Hum pagal hain kya? Advaniji ko kyon arrest karengein?’ (Am I mad? Why would I arrest Advaniji?) They went away, had liquor and slept. Many journalists who were accompanying Advani, too, ate, drank and slept at Samastipur. I didn’t sleep the whole night. I called on the landline of the government guest house at Samastipur in which Advani was staying. It was about 4 a.m. on 10 October. A cook picked up the phone. I didn’t reveal my identity to the cook and described myself as a reporter from Aaj newspaper. I asked the cook, ‘What is Advaniji doing’. He said, ‘He is sleeping.’ I asked, ‘Is he alone or are there others around?’ He said, ‘He is alone in his room.’ I asked the cook to serve him tea, and put the receiver down. A few minutes later, Oraon and R.K. Singh called, informing me that the mission had been accomplished.
In the morning, I was anxiously strolling on my lawn when I noticed a helicopter in the air. I thought the plan had failed, because the helicopter seemed to be approaching from a direction that did not suggest Samastipur. I contacted the pilot and asked, ‘Kyun Avinash babu, kya huh?’ He said he had to make a detour for refuelling!
After the arrest, R.K. Singh and Oraon had put Advani in the chopper. As per my plan, Advani was flown to live in custody at a guest house at Massanjore in Dumka district on the Bihar-Bengal border. A day before the arrest, I had called the deputy commissioner (Dumka), Sudhir Kumar, directing that he should keep the guest house in order as I might visit it the following day. I had not revealed to him the plan of Advani’s arrest. After Advani was flown to the guest house,
I called Sudhir again, asking him to deploy adequate security forces at the guest house. The news of Advani’s arrest spread quickly with TV channels and the radio broadcasting it. Incidentally, because the arrest was in the early hours of the morning, and also because I had issued firm orders to the police to shoot any troublemaker at the site, nobody was there to witness the historic event. Even the media wasn’t around, which is why there are no photographs of the arrest.
Extracted from Gopalganj to Raisina: My Political Journey by Lalu Prasad Yadav with permission from Rupa Publications