Don't be mistaken into believing that Mohammad Shahabuddin is just a dreaded don from Siwan in Bihar or a convicted felon who is under trail for over five dozen other cases of heinous crimes.
In plain terms, since the time he walked out of the Bhagalpur jail on Saturday, he has been acting like a heavy duty targeted missile, launched with a singular aim – to humiliate and demolish the moral and stately authority of the Bihar chief minister and the leader of ruling JD(U)-RJD-Congress coalition, Nitish Kumar.
The kind of welcome he received – spontaneous or carefully organised – since his release from jail after 11 years in judicial captivity; the way he has been speaking for the past two days; the manner in which RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and senior party leaders responded to his release; and how former union minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh reacted to the convicted criminal turned politician's statements are all pointers indicative of just that.
Pictures of Shahabuddin walking out of Bhagalpur jail, with some pieces of paper and a book in his hand, and the very first words he uttered in free air were all aimed to lampoon Nitish Kumar. By calling Nitish a "parasthitiyon ke neta" (leader by compulsions of circumstances), he instantaneously caused an upheaval in the political and social circles in Bihar.
Subsequent events in the past 48 hours – his cavalcade of an estimated 1500 SUVs and MUVs speeding past barriers; evading payments at toll plazas on the highways; welcome arches being set up all cross the road from Bhagalpur to Siwan; small and large gatherings of his supporters showing up, where members of the Muslim community, particularly the youngsters coming out in large numbers; and Shahabuddin's barbs against Nitish getting sharper by the hour – made that upheaval gain an earthquake proportion of over six on the political Richter scale.
Though relations between RJD and JD (U) have not reached a breaking point yet, it surely has reached a boiling point. Leaders cutting across political spectrum told Firstpost that if the situation continues to deteriorate then that it could unleash fresh realignment of political forces in the state, impacting the longevity of the Nitish Kumar-Tejashwi Yadav government.
The fact that it took Shahabuddin 34 hours to reach Siwan from Bhagalpur, a distance which should otherwise be covered in about six hours, has been taken note of by all concerned. He moved not like a convicted criminal out on bail but like a charmed world cup winner.
What would worry the JD (U) and others is that by taking that much time during his Bhagalpur-Siwan journey, stopping at an end number of points to accept greetings along the way, Shahabuddin has solidified, politically and socially, the critical Muslim community support for himself and the RJD.
As on now, leaders in JD (U), RJD and Congress are not inclined to believe that this government would last the full term till 2020 or even till 2019, when the next parliamentary elections are due. That is indeed an ominous sign for the incumbent Nitish.
The situation cannot get any worse for a ruling coalition than when the members start mutually distrusting, raving and ranting about each other in private, and do not hesitate to vent out, even in public.
Firstpost, after speaking to the alliance leaders in Bihar, sensed that RJD and JD(U) leaders are even discussing what could be the possible alternate scenario if either of these parties decide to exit and pull down the government.
Can RJD-Congress plus a split in JD(U) be a possible alternative? Or can JD(U), Congress and a split in RJD be a likely sccenario? Or, will the state have to go to polls to seek a fresh mandate?
In the 243-member Bihar Assembly, RJD is the largest single party with 80 MLAs, JD (U) is second with 71 MLAs, Congress has 27, while the Opposition BJP has 53.
What has hurt JD(U) leaders the most is Shahabuddin’s unadulterated rant of comparing Nitish Kumar with Madhu Koda of Jharkhand. Koda is the single biggest symbol of the evil side of parliamentary democracy in India – an Independent who became the chief minister of neighbouring Jharkhand, from September 2006 to August 2008, with the support of JMM, Congress, RJD and all other parties which were opposed to BJP.
He proved to be one of the most corrupt politicians ever and finally landed up in jail for his corrupt deeds. What aggravated their hurt is the dreaded don's assertion that Nitish on his own can't even win 20 seats. "How dare he compare Nitish Ji with Koda", is the common refrain.
There is a feeling in the informed JD(U) circle that Shahabuddin is playing to the script which has actually been authored by someone else. It's no secret that Nitish's biggest USP is governance and establishing a rule of law – as seen in his first two terms of government in Bihar, when he ruled Bihar in alliance with the BJP.
"What is being done through Shahabuddin's release and his endless barbs against the chief minister is an attempt to finish Brand Nitish and his governance USP, which made him a political brand in the state and in the nation. A criminal's open challenge diminishes Nitish's moral authority as a leader and as chief minister. As such he is challenging the state authority," a JD(U) leader said.
The RJD believes that Nitish now has a social support base of his own but that he does not have a committed caste support base – nor secular (Muslima), nor a Hindutva support base, something that was reflected in the 2014 Parliamentary polls.
By that assertion, Nitish minus BJP and Lalu Yadav's RJD is no political force. But then a senior Congress leader from the state, on condition of anonymity said, "the same is true for Lalu as well. Minus Nitish, he was reduced to only two dozen seats in Assembly in 2010, with his wife Rabri Devi losing from both the Assembly constituencies she fought."
The fact that the toll booth manager of the plaza through which Shahabuddin’s carcade, with about 1500 SUVs, passed told some TV channels that he was asked by a local police officer to keep up toll barriers when the ex-MPs cavalcade passed means that someone high up in government passed that message to the local police.
Another JD (U) leader said that the problem is that four to five leaders – Nitish as chief minister, Tejashwi as deputy chief minister, Lalu Yadav as leader of the Mahagathbandhan, Misa Bharti as Lalu's daughter and MP, and also other members of RJD's first family – pass instructions to officials at varied hierarchy, which creates confusion and consequently takes a toll on governance. He accepts that it was due to lapses on part of the state government that Shahabuddin came out of jail.
There is, however, a general unanimity over the fact that Nitish will not take this humiliation or challenge to his authority lying down. "Wait for the next few days, you will see that Shahabuddin lands in jail once again. He didn't elaborate how. Besides that, Nitish's government could recommend a CBI inquiry in Rajdev Ranjan's death, where Shahabuddin is a suspect," said a leader considered close to Nitish.
And, if it comes to the crunch, Nitish might also take some drastic actions. "His actions have always spoken more than his words," a close party leader said.