In a significant move aimed at improving its image ahead of the upcoming assembly polls, the main opposition RJD in Bihar has removed criminal-politician Mohammad Shahabuddin from its list of national executives. This is for the first time in the history of the RJD which was formed in 1997 that Shahabuddin has been kept out of the party’s executive. Shahabuddin, who has been convicted in at least four criminal cases, is currently lodged in Tihar Jail.

Reports said RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, the younger son of RJD president Lalu Prasad and widely considered his heir apparent, didn’t want the “gangster” image of Shahabuddin affect the prospects of the party in the coming assembly polls and wanted him to be kept out of the party’s organizational structure. He conveyed his message to his father who finally acted as per his wish.

The party, however, has given place to Hina Shahab, wife of Shahabuddin, in the national executive in a bid to please the vast Muslim vote-bank. For the past three elections, the RJD has also been constantly giving tickets to his wife for Siwan Lok Sabha seat although luck has eluded her till date. Siwan has been the home seat of Shahabuddin who represented this seat four times in Lok Sabha before being convicted and sent to jail for criminal cases. He faces around 40 criminal cases of various natures.

The BJP, however, said the taint on the RJD’s face was never going to be removed. “The RJD is a party which always relied on musclemen and persons with controversial character. How much the RJD tries hard, the taint on its face is never going to be removed,” BJP spokesperson Prem Ranjan Patel commented.

What is further significant, the jailed RJD president has retained his wife Rabri Devi as party’s national vice-president in what experts say is an attempt to allow her to monitor the party affairs while he serves jail terms in the fodder scam. Along with his wife, Prasad has also inducted his two close confidantes, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and Shivanand Tiwari, as national vice-presidents in a clear indication of how his friends remain as important as his family members.

The new entrants to the RJD, former assembly Speaker Uday Narayan Chaudhary and ex-minister Ramai Ram, too have been accommodated in the national executive. Both the leaders had contested the last assembly elections on JD-U tickets but fell out with chief minister Nitish Kumar soon. Prasad has also inducted both his sons, Tejashwi and Tej Pratap Yadav, along with daughter Misa Bharti in the national executive.