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Meet Pande Baba [पाँड़े बाबा ], gunslinger/teacher/student: 1980s Bihar through a biography

By Dev N Pathak

Life options: double-edged choices!

The former Vice-President of India Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma was stunned to hear the speech of a class six boy named Mukund Mani Pandey, at Mawlankar Hall in New Delhi (India). The boy was taken to Dr. Sahrma after the ovation thinned. Dr. Sharma exclaimed, ‘well done my boy! Where are you from?’ The boy said, ‘ I am from Vatayan school’. A perplexed Dr. Sharma asked, ‘I have never heard of this school! Where is it?’ The boy answered with a swelling chest, ‘it is as small a school as me in a small town called Siwan in a big state called Bihar’.

Mukund Mani narrates this instance with twinkle in his eyes and says – it was in 1986.For the youth of Bihar it was unimaginable to get recognition from the who’s who of India. Why? Because all of us as youth aspired to become bank clerks, railway clerks, school teachers, peons, or a daroga (police sub inspector). Many of our friends did bribe their way to the posts of clerks and peons. If we were too ambitious, we thought of becoming DSP (Deputy Superintendent of Police). Dreams were too localized and narrow in the decade of 1980s. Every father wished and pushed his son to become a Babu(clerk).

After making it to quite a few national level debates and declamation competitions, Mukund Mani had his roads open toward national stage as a student. But then, there was another road, which led him to nooks and corners of district of Siwan. Mukund Mani recollects as to how he became ‘Panre Baba’, the Rangdaar Robin Hood, sporting a gun while giving home tuitions in Siwan. The tale of becoming, from the biography of Mukund Mani, is rife with tales on schooling and social dispositions in the district of Siwan and state of Bihar. And these tales are embedded in the history of Indian politics too.

It was in 1989 that he shifted from Vatayan to Mahabiri school. Vatayan was first ever private school, affiliated to CBSE, to provide proper English medium education to children from class one to class eight. A practitioner of medicine by profession Doctor Arvind Sinha (fondly called Doctor Sir) chose to take up school education due to his strong inclination toward educating children. He envisioned the school to offer quality education and cosmopolitan schooling to the children of Siwan. It was indeed an elite formation with teachers and students from the high-profile families (bureaucrats, magistrates, professors, and even political leadership and social musclemen). Mukund Mani with his confidence and diligence became the favorite of Doctor Sir and went around on the tour of India as a young representative of the school.

On the other hand Mahabiri school was run by the Hindu right wing groups with strong cultural-ideological indoctrination instilled in teachers and students. Mukund Mani could not relate to Mahabiri especially after having vindicated his rationalist orientation at Vatayan. And of course he missed all his old pals who had enrolled in the D.A.V high school (a government school operating with Bihar Board of School Examination). So, Mukund Mani too insisted to join D.A.V, despite the warnings by his teachers at Vatayan that DAV is school of wayward kids. However, following his friends’ footsteps, he joined DAV; that was where he was initiated into a world of local crime with discreet charm.

Crime and Politics in Saran

Mukund Mani had an inkling of this world as a growing child. His older brother was a friend of Abhay Pandey. Who was Abhay Pandey? Mukund Mani says enthusiastically, ‘he was one of the heroes from Siwan during the JaiPrakash Narayan Movement’. Initially he was inclined toward Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh, and maintained that temperament even after joining hands with local congressmen post JP movement. During the heydays of JP, Abhay made a bomb and exploded it in the premises of D.A.V College,Siwan (the only state-run college then in Siwan). He was as strong as Kali Pandey and Satish Pandey of Gopalgunj; and he also contested elections a couple of times from the constituency of Jiradei as an independent candidate. He lost it due to the mathematical mistake in booth (ballot)-capturing by his young aides.

Through the socio-political background of Mukund Mani’s biography emerge some sketchy and unchronicled episodes of socio-political rivalry between Brahmin and Rajput factional leadership. Uma Shankar Singh of congress (and on right opportunity with Janta Party) was an unrivalled winner for years and his aides were rulers of the local political scene. Siwan however began to turn bipolar in caste character after Satish Pandey, the bodyguard of the District Magistrate of Siwan, killed Hemant Singh who was a key lynchpin of Uma Shankar Singh. Satish Pandey emerged thereby as a messiah of Brahmins in the district of Siwan. He contested as an independent candidate while he was serving jail. That was the time when a young Shahabuddin,was also serving jail in Siwan on the charge of killing a businessman in Dhanbad (the district of coal mine gangs).

Shahabu, as fondly called by his supporters, who later became a gigantic figure due to the relationship with Lalu Prasad Yadav and the regime of Janta Dal (later RashtriyaJanta Dal), was himself an admirer of his jail mate Satish. Shahabu offered to help Satish in winning the election, which Satish turned down, as he was sure of winning on his own. But he lost it due to the changing power dynamics in Bihar as well as India. Subsequently, Satish was bailed out by Kali Pandey of Gopalgunj; Satish helped Kali in winning the election in Gopalgunj in 1984. It is believed however that Satish had sowed the political seeds in the mind of a young criminal Shahbuddin in the district jail of Siwan.

This was also a time when Rajiv Gandhi was being embroiled in the charges of corruption and V P Singh was trying to forge alliances to form a non-congress government. The formation of Janta Dal, and thereby emergence of non-congress regional political leadership in Bihar as well as in other parts of India, was also an occasion for many goons to grab political positions. Shahubudding benefitted from the national-regional political circumstances, contested independent from Jiradei. Satish Pandey from Gopalgunj summoned the youth of Siwan to rally support for Shahabudin; consequentially, Shahabuddin had a huge army of youth, Muslim and Brahmins, capturing polling booths and casting ballots; Mukund Mani was one of the devoted young men.

But then, how did Mukund Mani come in contact with Shahabuddin!? To answer this question, Mukund Mani takes me back to his shift to D.A.V high school. There were several gangs of young boys within and without the school. One of the gangs from Dakshintola, led by the veteran criminal Biskarma Chauhan, had a rangdaar (the muscleman taxing people) called Dadwa who once caught Mukund Mani by collar at the gate of the school and asked him to pay tax.

Mukund was still a boy with the skill of debating rather than that of muscles. He refused to pay on rational grounds and went on to attend his class. But then, in no time, Dadwa with his armed gang thronged the school in hunt for innocent-defiant Mukund. The class was on, and like many teachers of this school, the class teacher of Munkund was too spineless to prevent Dadwa. But then, the news of Dadwa hunting for somebody called Mukund Mani Pandey spread like wildfire in school. In no time, three students from the school dropped in and surrounded Mukund Mani as a protective ring for their own reasons.

Shailendra, a student of overtly criminal interest, was a big fan of a sharp minded boy that Mukund was, and placed his enormous body in the front; Prashant Tiwari, related to Kali Pandey of Gopalgunj, thought it imperative to protect a Brahmin boy whose brother was friendly with Abhay Pandey (the politically failed man of JP movement); and Dinesh whose whole family was connected with the Brahmin criminals in one or other way and especially aligned with Shahabuddin – all of them came together to form a gang of their own spontaneously.

Mukund now: by Dev N Pathak

Among these three, Prashant was the most enterprising young criminal as he had allegedly made money while he was in class nine by selling off a village boy to a rich lady in Delhi; he served jail on this charge and was later acquitted. They not only dissuaded Dadwa but also send out a message to all the gangs of young criminals that Mukund Mani is not a vulnerable Brahmin boy. His friends gave Mukund Mania a katta (locally made gun) for self-protection as well as a token of alliance.Then onwards, they often went around firing shots in the air to mark their clout and territory. The whole district knew of them; while others went on collecting taxes and benefitting from their power, Mukund Mani only used this as an image of Robin Hood of Siwan as it gave him immense sense of fulfillment to help people in distress.

 Criminalized Higher Education

What sense does all this make? It was a sense of helping the helpless when the police were not doing their job; it was a sense of aiding the deprived to get education when teachers were too busy with private tuitions and coaching classes to deliver the needed in the classroom; it was a sense of operating with self-respect when caste and criminal assaults were all around.

Mukund Mani became a young man, with a loaded kata on his waist, and a pen in his pocket, inspiring awe among the seekers of help, and giving home tuitions for a living rather than collecting money from the businessmen like his other companions in the crime. He was thus ‘Panre Baba, the Rangdaar without any material interest in rangdaari, to maintain his individual clout through his network of criminal politicians and young criminals.

That was the reason why Narhari Sharma (the Physics teacher at DAV College, Siwan) who opened Everest Coaching Center to mint money in addition to tuition classes for exorbitant fees at his home, invited Mukund Mani to protect his coaching center from the goons-cum-students, offering him a monthly salary. Mukund Mani turned it down saying- you have to teach all those, criminal as well as non-criminal youth, who come to your coaching center without asking for money because you and your other colleagues do not teach properly in the college. The coaching center had all the top teachers of the college as employees, teaching for the extra income. Mukund Mani and his team went around in the college premises to spread the message that teachers will have to give free classes at home for all those who wish to study. They opened fire in air, without hurting any single person, to show that student community was not helpless in the times when Siwan was in the hands of criminals and incompetent government authorities.

Post Script: There is no intention to romanticize crime in this representation; this essay has facts as recollected by Mukund Mani Pandey himself, and hence laced with subjective details; the name Mukund Mani Pandey is a pseudonym; there are no evidences of crimes committed by the groups of students and hence this essay can not be used for legal purposes. Mukund Mani Pandey is currently an enterprising teacher in Delhi; this story requires another part on how the young man with a katta became a teacher.

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Dev Pathak teaches Sociology at South Asian University, New Delhi, and is among our panel of columnists. He writes his column  ‘Dear home: letters from an NRB’ exclusively for bihardays on Saturdays.

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