Patna: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s party the Janata Dal-United has fielded former state minister Manju Verma, who was forced to resign owing to reports of her husband’s alleged close links to Brajesh Thakur, main accused in the Muzaffarpur shelter home rape case, in the upcoming state Assembly polls.
Verma was Bihar Social Welfare Minister when the infamous Muzaffarpur shelter home case came to light where 34 minor girls were physically and sexually abused. Verma was accused of protecting her husband after the surfacing of his connection with Thakur, who was arrested in the case and is currently in jail. A probe had revealed that her husband was regularly in touch with Thakur and had spoken to him 17 times within six months in 2018.
Embarrassed by Verma, JD-U had suspended her from the party’s primary membership on the ground of “zero tolerance for crime and corruption”.
Verma was also arrested in November 2018 under the Arms Act for possession of illegal ammunition, which is an offshoot of the Muzaffarpur shelter home rape case. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had seized 50 live cartridges from her Begusarai home and filed an FIR against her and her husband Chandeshwar Verma. She was granted bail by the Patna High Court in March 2019.
The shelter home case gave rise to a wave of countrywide protests. After being silent over the case for months in 2018, Nitish Kumar had said he was ashamed of the incident, adding that the case "has left us with a sense of shame and guilt.” However, things appear to be different now.
Verma’s name figured in the JD-U’s list of 115 candidates for the Assembly elections released on Wednesday night. She is one of the 22 women candidates fielded by the party this time. She has been given the party symbol to contest from Cheria-Bariarpur Assembly constituency, which she represented from 2010 until 2018.
Ironically, the party is set to give 20% seats to women candidates including Verma as part of its commitment to women empowerment.
JD-U leader Sanjay Singh defended the party’s decision to field Manju Verma in the three-phase election starting on October 28. “She is not an accused in the case and was arrested for possessing illegal arms and ammunition. What is wrong in fielding her to contest elections?” Singh said.
However, JD-U ally the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has refused to say anything on this issue.
JD-U's decision to field Verma has raised eyebrows in the state. It has also been held as an example of the reality of Nitish Kumar’s much-hyped “sushasan”(governance) and rule of law.
It was criticised by the opposition Grand Alliance including Left parties, women activists and social activists. Senior Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Bhai Virendar said Kumar has revealed his double standard over crime and corruption by fielding Verma. “Nitish Kumar has yet to break his silence over the Hathras rape case (in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh) and made Manju his party candidate in polls. This is enough to understand his jumla of women empowerment,” he said.
Saroj Choubey, leader of All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), said the JD-U has exposed its mindset towards the victims of Muzaffarpur shelter home case by giving ticket to Verma. “What does one expect from it (JD-U)? The party has disappointed all,” Choubey said.
Activist Kanchan Bala said Verma has been given a ticket to contest polls to keep her happy. She said it was a compulsion of the incumbent chief minister as Verma is a witness in the shelter home case. In February last year, a special Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) court in Muzaffarpur had also directed the CBI to conduct a probe against Nitish Kumar and two senior IAS officers in the case.
“Nitish Kumar’s involvement is not ruled out in the case. If any opposition party had fielded Manju, it would have become a big news. As she is a candidate of ruling NDA, it has been downplayed. No one will raise this issue, it is for people to defeat her to give a strong message,” Bala said.
She further said that it was a well-known fact that Verma, despite knowing about the scandal of the shelter home, was protecting her husband. “That was a major crime,” she said.
Tamanna Hadhmi, a social activist from Muzaffarpur, recalled how Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was a star campaigner of the NDA in 2019 Lok Sabha polls has not said a line about this shocking case in his election rallies in Bihar. “Modi has deliberately ignored this issue when he was praising Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. This had exposed the double-talk of PM Modi and the failure of his much-hyped Beti Bachao Beti Padhao.”
The alleged sexual abuse of 34 minor girls at the Muzaffarpur shelter home, run by Thakur’s NGO, came to light in May 2018 after a social audit report prepared by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) went public. Following this, the Bihar Social Welfare Department had filed a complaint with the police. A 16-year-old victim, who is also a prime witness in this case, had revealed names of several perpetrators – allegedly including top government officers and powerful politicians who used to regularly visit the Muzaffarpur shelter home.
After a hue and cry by the opposition, the case was handed over to the CBI around two years ago. Thakur has since been shifted to a jail in Patiala following the order of the Supreme Court, even as the other accused, including his close aides and few government officials are lodged in jails in Patna and Muzaffarpur.
The gravity of this case can be gauged from the fact that the Supreme Court, which is monitoring the ongoing CBI probe in this case, has repeatedly slammed the Bihar government for delay in taking action.
However, the opposition RJD has also given ticket to wife of a former party MLA, who was jailed for rape of a minor girl.