Memories Of Another Time And Lalu Yadav’s Journey To Jail
It truly is a tragedy of epic proportions. At full flight he was a sight to behold and a voice to marvel. He represented forces that never before sat on the high table where power and resources are allocated
I am always sad when I see someone big being taken down. I detested Saddam Hussain and Muammar Gadaffi, but the manner of their end nevertheless made me sad. That final helplessness when the law or foes close in can never be comprehended by anyone but the loser. I feel sorry for the Lalu at the moment—the doors of the Birsa Munda jailed shut behind him. It truly is a tragedy of epic proportions. At full flight he was a sight to behold and a voice to marvel. He represented forces that never before sat on the high table where power and resources are allocated. When once asked as to what he did for the poor people, he just replied: “Swarg tho nahi diya, par swar zaroor diya.” But there was another Lalu that took over. This was the megalomaniacal side of him that did not restrain him from accepting the limits of societal mores and norms insisted upon.
Instead of learning from his guru Karpoori Thakur that to be invincible and unmoved from your essential instincts you have to be honest to the core and above all be seen to be that by all. Ironically enough, the foundations of the great chara ghotala was laid during Karpoori Thakur’s Chief Ministerial regime (Yashwant Sinha was his Principal Secretary), when disbursement of funds was decentralised somewhat to directly benefit the core constituency of the former Janata Party—the backward classes’ and Muslims’ coalition. The upper classes and the dalits were not cattle-herders and hence this ‘reform’ was meant to benefit the innermost core of that constituency—the Yadavs. Therefore, there is some irony in that, the roots of Lalu Prasad Yadav’s destruction was laid in the courts of his hero and mentor.
I first met Lalu Yadav in 1988 when I accompanied VP Singh to two desolate villages near Jehanabad, Baghaura and Dalelchak where 54 Rajputs were massacred by the Maoist Co-ordination Committee. It was still early days for the then out of Congress VP Singh, and he was seeking to shore up his Rajput base in his fight against Rajiv Gandhi. The bigger Thakurs were all opposed to him. Anyway, soon after we arrived at Patna airport, Sharad Yadav disappeared and just VP Singh, Ramdhan and a few of us went to meet with the aggrieved Thakurs and the terrorised Dalits who were awaiting retaliatory attacks. That happened no sooner we left.
But next day back in Patna, Sharad Yadav suggested to me that we have lunch at Lalu Yadav’s place. So we went off to a small tin-roofed quarter of the Veterinary College where the future Bihar CM received us and seated us on a bench. Before lunch he handed us a small towel each and we washed our hands and face while he drew water from hand pump. Sharad Yadav and I sat facing each other with our legs on either side of the bench and two steel thals were laid in front of us. A pedestal fan fought valiantly against the heat and humdity. The meal was very frugal, but piping hot made up for everything it may have lacked—Rice, dal and a couple of subzis. I turned down dahi as I had a notion that anything in Bihar not boiling hot is not edible. I asked for hot tea that washed down the meal, instead of the liquid that came from the frayed nozzle of the creaking hand pump.
But Lalu had one surprise in store for me. He had read my pamphlet “Ganga key santan” the Hindi version of my somewhat grandiloquently titled “The Children of the Ganga: An Enquiry into the Poverty of the People of the Gangetic plains”, written in 1985. It was a study that made big news in Bihar. Chandrashekhar was very happy with it. His chelas immediately suggested that I be taken off as the author and netaji’s name put in its place. One chamcha even said: ”Yeh tho Chandrasekharji ki baat bol rahen hain. Sirf likha hai inhone.” I was agreeable to it, but CS would have nothing to do with it. He bluntly said that no one will believe that he could have researched it and written it. I distinctly remember only Syed Shahabuddin had a criticism. He objected to my referring to the Ganges as the holy Ganga. It is just a river, he said. I said even Kaaba was just stone but why does he consider it holy? CS put an end to what was shaping up to become acrimonius by cryptically saying the Ganga is holy, Kaaba is holy.
Lalu recalled some of the statistics in it and rattled off things from it like the credit/deposit ratios, the investment in irrigation and rural development, and the destructive freight equalisation policy. He had a somewhat different take on it though. He said it was an upper caste/class conspiracy to keep the people of UP and Bihar poor and backward. Sharad Yadav had no interest in such things. On the way back, Sharad Yadav told me that he had introduced me to the next CM of Bihar. VP Singh was curious to know what Sharad had to say. Among us Sharad Yadav, who had an infinite capacity for intrigue, was referred to as Mamashree, inspired by the portrayal of Shakuni in the then popular Mahabharata serial. I told him that Mamashree thought of Lalu as a future CM to take the place of the great Karpoori Thakur. VP Singh gave me a quizzical look, as if to say are you for real?
By then, others in the nascent political party helpfully made the Delhi party know that Lalu was a bit of a hoodlum and often went drunk to the assembly. Vashishta Narain Singh and Shivanand Tiwari worked overtime to neutralise the effect that Sharad Yadav may have had on VP Singh. VP Singh did in fact make up his mind. It was Ram Sundar Das, the veteran Dalit leader and former CM. Ram Sundar Das is now well past ninety and is still a MP. But when the time came, following the 1990 assembly elections, Sharad Yadav with Devilal’s backing made Lalu contest the election to the legislative party leadership and had the PM’s candidate, Ram Sundar Das, defeated. Among the arguments that Sharad Yadav was said to have made to swing Devilal was that VP Singh was essentially a casteist and only went to Baghaura and Dalelchak because Rajputs were killed. It was due to constant taunts like this that VP Singh, always very conscious of his Thakur background and seeking a new image, adopted the Mandal Commission recommendations as his mantra. Remember his favourite slogan was—Yeh Raja nahin fakir hai, desh ki naya taqdeer hai!
VP Singh’s taqdeer didn’t last very long, but Lalu Prasad entered our recent mythology by arresting LK Advani in Samastipur and separating him from DCM Toyota van turned rath. Lalu famously quipped: “Motor gadi thi, koi uran khatola tho nahi. Mein ney pahiye sey hawa utaar diya.” Advani never forgave him for the scorn he poured on him. VP Singh carefully chose Lalu to do the honours as he did not want Mulayam Singh Yadav, the then CM in UP, to get the credit. Sharad Yadav too was not too keen on an arrest in Bihar as he could sense his protege finding his own wings. And after putting Advani in the cooler, Lalu never looked back. He became the darling of the fawning leftist element in the English media.
VP Singh fell in 1991 but Lalu Prasad went on to be a long-serving CM of a long-suffering Bihar. Along the way, he undercut his recent mentor, Sharad Yadav, and took centre place in national politics as one of those foremost in the national politics. He had clearly become very vainglorious and his adulation by the Delhi media got to his head. The Congress had clambered back to power. But after it fell in the elections, it was time for a khichdi. He now, made his famous comment: “Ham King nahi, king maker hain.” And that is how HD Deve Gowda became king of the pile. VP Singh wanted no part of it and the CPM made its “historic blunder” by refusing permission to Jyoti Basu. But Deve Gowda, ever wary of the now domineering Lalu, made a somewhat pliant and flexible Karnataka cadre IPS officer, Joginder Singh, the CBI chief. Joginder, instead of blocking the fodder scam investigations, filed the charge-sheet. The folklore has it that Lalu stormed into the PM’s office at 7 RCR and belted out a few to Deve Gowda. The SPG stays outside and so could not save the PM from a few whacks. Soon Deve Gowda was felled by another Bihar politician, Sitaram Kesri, as he went scenting after him over the mysterious murder of his physician, a Dr.Tanwar.
Once again Lalu Yadav became king- maker. From the sublime he now went in for the ridiculous. He picked Inder Kumar Gujral to become PM in 1997. The high point of Gujral’s political career was when he went to Baghdad after Saddam Hussein occupied Kuwait and embraced him. Many said it was a Saddam double, whose cheeks he had kissed. But it caught Lalu’s eye. Gujral, he blithely told the media, was a Gujjar and Bihar would welcome him as a friend of the BCs and Muslims (the Saddam embrace). In 1991, IK Gujral contested the Lok Sabha seat from Patna and with him went his caboodle of IIC based do-gooders, who in an earlier period were the cheerleaders for Ramakrishna Hegde’s “value- based politics”. It was amusing to see people like Kuldip Nayyar campaigning in Patna while Lalu’s goons went about looting booths. The Election Commission took heed and countermanded the election. That was the end of value- based politics and we got a good taste of what India missed when Inder Gujral imported a million tonnes of Australian wheat to “shore up” the buffers. When in reality the purchase at about $300 a tonne over the prevailing price was only to shore up the coffers of his family. The CBI’s investigation of this was later turned off by Vajpayee in exchange for Gujral’s good behaviour. His son is now the Akali Dal’s MP from Jalandhar. In late 2003, I had written another Bihar paper “The Economic Strangulation of Bihar.” Chandra-shekhar, the former Prime Minister, gave Lalu Prasad a copy. CS told me that Lalu read it with great excitement. Immediately I got a call from Premchand Gupta, Lalu’s factotum, and he asked for a meeting. He wanted copies. I thought he wanted a few. But he had thousands in mind. I gave him a floppy with a copy of the paper and pointed him towards a printing press. I was soon invited by the Chief Secretary of Bihar to make a presentation to him and his officers.
LALU’S CONVICTION-A DEFINING MOMENT FOR INDIAN POLITICS
From 1990 to 2005 Shri Lalu Prasad Yadav and his party gave to Bihar the worst possible government. His government was popularly referred to as the ‘Jungle Raj’. It was governance at its’ worst. Ministers and civil servants barely attended the Sachivalaya. Vulgarity was a political style. Corruption was rampant. A new ideology was born which emphasized that growth and development do not get votes. It is only caste and community polarisation which are an instrument of getting and retaining political power. When Shri Lalu Prasad Yadav was arrested for the fodder case there was no second in command in the party. His wife became the Chief Minister. A caste polarized state accepted her as the Chief Minister. She even won an election.
2005 was a water-shed year for Bihar. This regime was overthrown by the electorate. By then Lalu Prasad had moved to the Centre as a Union Minister. He became a balancer for the UPA in its’ pursuit of coalition politics. He had a vested interest in supporting the UPA. Besides being in power he could manage to manipulate the CBI which was prosecuting his case to sabotage the prosecution. In the year 2004 the first major attack on the UPA government was on the issue of seven tainted ministers being a part of the Council of Ministers. The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh defended the tainted. Lalu Prasad was the foremost among the tainted who were being prosecuted. Some of his cases were successfully killed by the prosecution itself. The disproportionate assets case witnessed a change of Judge, a change of the prosecutor, a special bench of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal and a judgement which hardly inspired confidence. The CBI decided not to appeal against the Judgement. When the Bihar Government appealed against the Judgement the CBI successfully challenged the locus of the Bihar Government to file the appeal. The disproportionate assets case was given a Judicial burial. One can manage the system on some occasions. It is not possible to manage all the people all the time. There are some men of integrity in every institution. There are many in the Judiciary who still cannot be bent. The accused were uncomfortable with the Presiding Judge, efforts to get him changed failed. The prosecutor was changed but the Supreme Court intervened and prevented that from happening and finally a historic verdict holding the 45 people guilty. They include politicians, civil servants, middlemen and contractors.
It has taken 17 years for Justice to be done. Public spirited litigants who put the process of law into motion succeeded in getting the case transferred from the Bihar police to the CBI. They succeeded in preventing the CBI during the UPA government from sabotaging its own case. When conviction appeared to be inevitable the UPA even prepared for life after conviction. The amendment to section 8(4) of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951 was proposed. When Parliament did not approve the Bill and referred it to the Standing Committee, the shameless UPA government approved an Ordinance. The President was reluctant to sign the Ordinance. The Ordinance could not be approved for reasons which are well known. Today we have all understood why this Ordinance was brought. Its only object was to help a loyal UPA ally who was likely to be convicted. In the end justice has prevailed. Be you ever so high the law is above you.
By Arun Jaitley
(The author is Leader of Opposition, Rajya Sabha)
When I reached Patna, I was instead taken to the CM’s residence. The lady was in the kitchen supervising the day’s meal. Lalu Prasad was there with a retired IAS officer he called bade babu. Bade babu would tell him the gist of what was in a file and Lalu would tell the wife to sign it after the appropriate noting was made. Lalu then spoke about the new study, as we walked looking at his cattle, fishpond, horse and even camel. He then told me that he wanted to use it in the forthcoming elections to the 2004 Lok Sabha. Just as I was getting ready to go, he said that I should meet some media persons who had arrived and tell them about the study. I gave the media my spiel over the economic neglect and exploitation of Bihar and UP, and to a specific question, confirmed that it was so even in the NDA period, despite Bihar having thirteen ministers in it. When one journo asked me what I thought these ministers were doing, Lalu jumped to say “murga khaya”. He was alluding to the food bills of Rajiv Rudy in a five star hotel in Goa. The bills made available showed that the minister and his entourage consumed many thousand rupees of chicken in just one session. The bills of another NDA minster, Ravi Shankar Prasad, who went on ‘official duty’ to attend Raveena Tandon’s wedding at Udaipur were also handed around. I quietly left the circus and found my way back to Delhi. No one saw me off at the airport, except for an old friend, Akhlaq Ahmed, an RJD MLA. In 2007, Akhlaq was sentenced to death for the 1994 murder of the Gopalganj Dy. Commissioner, G. Krishnaiah. Akhlaq has since been acquitted by the Supreme Court and continues to serve the public in the way only a Bihari politician can.
HOW LALU BECAME ‘BE-CHARA’
A recent judgement by a special CBI court has convicted former Bihar CM and RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and 44 others in a 17-year-old multi-crore fodder scam case. This conviction seems to be virtually disqualifying him from Parliament and knocking him out of the electoral race for at least six years. In July 10, 2013, order of the Supreme Court, the court ordered immediate disqualification of MPs/MLAs, found guilty in criminal cases punishable by two or more years in prison. The court also said the lawmakers shall continue to be disqualified for six years from the day of release. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s vetoing the ordinance, meant to overturn the judgement of the Supreme Court, has jeopardised the hopes of Lalu Prasad Yadav to return to active politics.
The fodder scam was a scandal that involved the alleged embezzlement of about Rs 950 crore from the government treasuries of the unified Bihar. The scam, spanned many years, was brought about by many Bihar state administrative and elected officials, and involved the fabrication of “vast herds of fictitious livestock” for which fodder, medicines and animal husbandry equipment were supposedly procured. The Rs 950-crore fodder scam in Bihar came to light on January 27, 1996, at Chaibasa in unified Bihar, when the then Deputy Commissioner of the District Amit Khare ordered his officials to raid the office of the animal husbandry department. Amit Khare was acting on an information to conduct the raid. The documents his team seized, and went public with, conclusively indicated large-scale embezzlement by officials and business people. Fearing that state official will not probe the scam impartially, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed in the Supreme Court to transfer the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). As per the directions issued by the apex court in March 1996, the Bihar High Court transferred the case to the CBI. An inquiry by the CBI began and as the investigation proceeded, the CBI unearthed linkages to the then serving Chief Minister of Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav and, on May 10, 1997, made a formal request to AR Kidwai, the then Governor of Bihar, to prosecute Lalu. After the Governor AR Kidwai gave his nod to prosecute Lalu Prasad, the CBI court took cognisance of the charge-sheet filed by the agency and a non-bailable warrant was issued against him. There were media reports at that time that the then CBI Joint Director Upen Biswas sought the help of the army to arrest Lalu Prasad. On July 25, 1997, 1 Aney Marg, the official residence of the Bihar Chief Minister, was virtually surrounded by paramilitary forces, ready to arrest Lalu Prasad. The apex court stayed his arrest, but it was clear that he would have to go to jail.
As the CBI discovered further evidence over the following years, it filed additional cases related to fraud and criminal conspiracy based on specific criminal acts of illegal withdrawals from the Bihar treasury. Most of the new cases were filed after the division of Bihar state, in Jharkhand and Bihar in November 2000. These new cases were filed in the new Jharkhand High Court, located in Ranchi, and several cases, previously filed in the Bihar High Court in Patna, were also transferred to Ranchi. Of the 63 cases that the agency had filed by May 2007, the majority was being litigated in the Ranchi High Court. Even though Lalu had been jailed, he was kept in comfort at the Bihar Military Police guest house. After spending 135 days in judicial custody, Lalu was released on bail on December 12, 1997. The next year, on 28 October 1998, he was again arrested on a different conspiracy case relating to the fodder scam, Initially, he was kept in the same guest house, but was moved to Patna’s Beur jail after the Supreme Court objected. Due to the multiplicity of cases, Lalu had been remanded time and again since 2000.
The specific charges against Lalu Prasad Yadav also include that he overlooked/concealed the fraudulent withdrawals over the years as Finance Minister of Bihar. He was closely associated with Shyam Bihari Sinha, the kingpin, whom the CBI found to be the “guardian on record” for one of Lalu Prasad’s daughters, studying in a school in Ranchi in the 1990s. He was charged with conspiring with Sinha and other scam accused in siphoning off the money from the treasury. Lalu Prasad was charged under sections 420, 465, 468, 471, 120B/34 of the IPC and 13 (1/b) of the Prevention of Corruption Act. During the decade of 2000-12, as the trial continued in a Jharkhand court, several key witnesses and accused passed away. On May 17, 2012, the special CBI court framed charges against Lalu Prasad in another fodder scam case, which pertained to fraudulent withdrawal of Rs 3.13 crore from Dumka treasury between December 1995 and January 1996. On September 17, 2013, the special court of CBI in Ranchi reserved its verdict in the fodder case and finally on September 30, 2013, the Special CBI Judge PK Singh pronounced the judgment in the case No. RC 20 A/96. He convicted all the 45 accused, including Lalu Prasad and Jagannath Mishra in the scam. The court sentenced Lalu Prasad for five years in jail and a fine of Rs. 25 lakhs on October 3.
Born to a milkman, Kundan Rai, and Marichiya Devi at Phulwariya village in Bihar’s Gopalganj district, Lalu went on to become a czar of Bihar. He was ruling the roost in Bihar, but, because of his role in the fodder scam, the chickens have now come home to roost. Lalu is banking on the hopes of the High Court staying his conviction. The alignments and re-alignments, embedded in the vote-bank politics, may save Lalu in future, but conviction of a mighty political leader like Lalu has proved that no one is above the law.
By Nilabh Krishna
Lalu Prasad made the economic stangulation of Bihar by the NDA his campaign theme and went on to win handily. During the course of this campaign, Sushil Modi made some unsavoury comments about me. I took him and Chandan Mitra to the Patiala House Courts on a charge of criminal defamation. After Arun Jaitely’s intercession in the High Court was thrown out by Justice Rajiv Sikri, both pleaded guilty and apologised in writing and paid me a handsome indemnity. Modi’s lawyer pleaded to the judge that the damages claimed were too high. All my lawyer had to say was that he was the Deputy CM of Bihar and left it there. But the meaning was explicit. Modi was made to pay. I purchased my fancy Tissot wrist watch with a part of this money. But my dalliance with Lalu did not end there. When the UPA came to power, on his own volition, he wrote to Manmohan Singh, asking for me to be made a Member of the Planning Commission. He wrote that he wanted someone to look out for Bihar’s interests. But the PM did not want me. He called Lalu and said that it was asking for trouble. Lalu also in his inimitable way said: “Aap dono key beech mein kuchh hua hain.” He said he’s willing to take it up with Sonia Gandhi. I said the PM was right and the matter should be laid to rest. I was glad it did not materialise for MMS is not exactly someone I particularly admire or even respect.
ALL ABOUT FODDER SCAM
The scam that had been chasing RJD chief Lalu Prasad for the last 17 years finally caught up with him
Altogether Rs 950 crore was fraudulently withdrawn from government treasuries in united Bihar. The scheme involved fabrication of vast herds of fictitious livestock for which fodder, medicines and animal husbandry equipment were supposedly procured. The theft spanned many years and allegedly involved numerous officials and politicians across party lines
- Lalu Prasad, MP and former Bihar chief minister
- Jagannath Mishra, former Bihar chief minister
- Jagdish Sharma, JD(U) MP from Bihar
- Dr RK Rana, Veterinary doctor and former MP from Khagaria
- Vidya Sagar Nishad, former Bihar minister
- Dhruv Bhagat, former BJP legislator
- Chandradeo Prasad Verma, former union minister (deceased)
- Bholaram Toofani, former minister (deceased)
Fraudulent withdrawal cases against Bihar CMs—Prasad and Mishra
- Rs 37.70 lakh from Chaibasa treasury
- Rs 33.61 crore from Chaibasa treasury
- Rs 90 lakh from Deoghar treasury
- 139.39 crore from Doranda treasury in Ranchi
- Rs 3.31 crore from Dumka treasury
- Rs 63 lakh from Bhagalpur treasury
The case in which Lalu got convicted
- Scam Amount: Rs 37.70 crore withdrawn from Chaibasa
- Informant: Amit Khare, then deputy commissioner
- CBI lodged FIR on Patna HC directive: March 27, 1996
- Total number of accused: 56
- Died during trial: 7
- Acquitted by Jharkhand HC: IAS officer Sajal Chakraborty
- Faced trial: 45
- Lalu arrested first time: July 30, 1997. Released: Dec. 12, 1997
- Framing of charges: April 5, 2000
Some those who died
- Harish Khandelwal, committed suicide in May 1997 by throwing himself before a running train at Dhanbad railway station
- AK Tudu, accused treasury officer, was found dead Beur Jail on April 28, 1998. He suffered from severe asthma. He couldn’t apply to bail as he had no money. Later, an advocate filed the bail application on request of jail inmates
- Bholaram Toofani, freedom fighter and former animal husbandry minister, stabbed himself and died
- Former union minister Chandradeo Prasad Verma died of shock when he learnt that he’d have to go to court in a week again
I last met Lalu when he was still the Minister for Railways. He was being feted for performing a miracle with its profitability. A Harvard Business School group was visiting him and he wanted to know how he should play it. I knew it was the upturn of the economy and a little sleight of hand. Lalu Prasad himself told me that all he had done was to raise the safety limit for tonnage on a wagon by 20 per cent. He said he knew from his sources that the officials did actually load this quantity and since it was in excess of what was deemed safe, they did not record it and pocketed the difference. With a laugh, he added that every Bihari worth his salt knew that. I don’t know how much truth there was to this, but his predecessor, Nitish Kumar, did comment that safety norms were being breached. Well, no goods train capsised when Lalu Prasad Yadav was the Minster for Railways. It was late in the evening and Lalu suggested dinner. He told Premchand Gupta, his man for all reasons, to arrange for some murga from Oberoi. It was a very different meal from the first one I had with him. Lalu Prasad had travelled a long way from the Veterinary College quarters. The hand pump made way to bottled water. The rickety pedestal fan had given way to split airconditioners. Dal bhat was replaced by chicken from Oberoi’s. I am sure he will get that and more in the Birsa Munda jail. The netas have a way of taking care of one and another. After all, as the song goes, there but for fortune would lie you and I!
By Mohan Guruswamy
(The author is Chairman and Founder of Centre for Policy Alternatives)
CASE NUMBER RC-20A/1996
It deals with the withdrawal of Rs 37.7 crore from the Chaibasa treasury by Animal Husbandry Department (AHD) officials on the basis of fake bills and vouchers procured and processed in connivance with suppliers, senior bureaucrats and politicians from 1992 to 1996. There were altogether 54 accused in the case, but now 45 accused are left in the case. Among the key politicians accused in this case were Lalu Prasad, former Chief Minister Jagannath Mishra, former AHD ministers Vidyasagar Nishad and Chandradeo Prasad Verma, JD(U) MP Jagdish Sharma, former RJD MP RK Rana and BJP leader Dhruv Bhagat. Jagannath Mishra was made an accused because Lalu Prasad, as MP, had written a letter to “J Mishra” (the then Chief Minister of Bihar) asking him to make a key accused, Ram Raj Ram, the AHD director. Again, as Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, Mishra had recommended the extension of service of scam kingpin Shyam Bihari Sinha. Among the key IAS officers accused were Phulchand Singh, Mahesh Prasad, Beck Julius, K Arumugham and Sajal Chakravarty. The court later acquitted Chakravarty.
END OF A POLITICAL ERA IN BIHAR?
On September 30, a historic event of Bihar’s modern political history stamped its date as its most colourful and influential caste leader Lalu Prasad Yadav was sent to jail in connection with a multi-crore fodder scam case. And, with it the fallen hero of Bihar politics became the first biggest catch of the recent Supreme Court order that called for immediate disqualification of MPs and MLAs, convicted by court with punishment of over two years or more imprisonment.
The lugubrious Lalu Prasad was found guilty in connection with a fodder scam case RC 20[A] / 96 of an alleged fraudulent withdrawal of Rs 37.7 crore from the Chaibasa treasury in Jharkhand. Though, the court verdict was most expected by others and by Lalu Prasad himself too at his bottom of the heart, but the man famously known for his fighting spirit was still hoping against hope. He made several rounds of temples, bowed his head to deities, tied black thread in hand, performed last minute puja in his puja room, licked curd and did gau-puja at his cowshed before leaving for Ranchi on September 29 to appear in the designated CBI court the next day.
But, all the divine interventions Lalu Prasad sought seemed elusive and good- luck wished by family members and scores of party leaders ditched him inside the courtroom of CBI Judge Pravas Kumar Singh. The man famously known for his rustic wit and earthy charms appeared grim and grave when the judgment was pronounced. It was what he expected at the bottom of his heart. He pleaded before the judge to make copy of his judgment available as early as possible so that he could appeal in high court for relief.
Amidst all the media focus and flashlights the great showman of Bihar politics finally was sent to jail in the afternoon. Though, it was not for the first time that he was sent to jail—in 1997 and 2001 he had made rounds of it—Lalu Prasad this time looked anxiously nervous but he kept his calm and compose for the sake of his family and the party, both losing the pulling strings of their survival. Soon after the court verdict, he talked to wife on his younger son Tejaswi’s mobile phone and asked her not to lose heart and verve; he waived to his assembled party leaders and workers as if assuring them not to worry. But, he himself was seen wiping beads of sweats crowding at his face and the TV footage showed him taking a token of tobacco from a policeman before entering the Ranchi jail gate.
The RJD boss Lalu Prasad has been fulcrum of Bihar politics for over two decades as each and every political alignment and realignments have been taking place taking him into focus. When he took over the reigns of Bihar in 1990, he was dubbed the messiah of social churning and the leader living the huge mass support like never before. His rustic charm, witty theatrics and easy mannerisms, proved magnetic for his support base and Lalu eventually became the self-proclaimed Raja of Bihar. He started running his government sitting in vest and lungi under a mango tree of his official residence, by the roadside, and in a village. The leader’s over-sized kurta and pajama with loose strings, white leather chhapals, his trademark haircut, white spittoon and lemon tea on a cane chair became permanent references in media and for the people of the country. His colourful persona and political craftsmanship had started hogging limelight across the country and in no time the charismatic Lalu Prasad was the mass leader of cowbelt like no one ever was.
Lalu, the leader, weaved a new socio-political combination for his electoral survival and with his 29 per cent M-Y [Muslim [15per cent] and Yadav [14 per cent] vote bank he started taking his electoral flight which saddled him at the throne for 15 long years, by proxy or otherwise. At the time of his mammoth lathi rally, he even announced that he had got contract to rule the state for 20 years. For the first time in 1996 Lalu Prasad got cornered as the multi-crore fodder scam was unearthed and the next year in 1997 he was sent to jail but he placed his unlettered wife Rabri Devi at the seat and started running the government by proxy. Again in 2001, he was incarcerated but he continued running his reign on his whims and fancies. Lalu’s word was the law; Lalu’s wish was legislature. And, Bihar kept suffering until it became the proverbial an area of darkness; a state where governance is absent and jungle raj prevails.
In the year 2005, a new political arithmetic was done with BJP, and JD-U joined hands to dethrone the “terror reign” of Lalu Prasad. The political arithmetic got its calculation right and the impregnable forte of Lalu Prasad was demolished. He was thrown out of power and not finished off yet. He became the Railway Minister and having his support base of Yadav caste he continued to being the axis of Bihar’s politics.
But, now what next? As unlike previous occasions he is not in power when he was sent to jail. He cannot run the show being behind the bar and cannot pull the strings to run his party on phone. Some say it’s the end of the road for RJD and Lalu Prasad; some say writing his political obituary would be a risky affair; some say he will bounce bank while others say the game is finished now for him. Yet, the political observers and pundits of the state who have been following the political journey of Lalu Prasad keenly agree that it is a huge blow that Lalu could find very difficult to manage.
Meanwhile, Bihar’s politics once again is readying for another slot of social churning with new combinations and chemistry. “We’ll become much stronger and would bounce back. Everytime our leader Lalu Prasad has gone to jail the party has fared better in poll. This time too it will happen”, said RJD MP from Maharajganj, Prabhunath Singh. Singh’s recent win gave a new boost to Lalu’s party which had been sagging for the last eight years. Another party leader and MP from Vaishali, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh told media persons that though they were depressed but not pessimistic. “Now, every partymen will become Lalu Prasad when he is in trouble and we will bounce back with more force and élan.” The buzz in RJD now is that Raghuvansh Prasad Singh might lead the party coordination committee along with Rabri Devi and son Tejaswi Yadav to run the party affairs in absence of Lalu Prasad.
But, the heir apparent Tejaswi Yadav, who has been accompanying his father up to the jail gate, has something else to offer: “I don’t understand why there has been talk in media as to who will lead the party now when our leader Lalu Prasad Yadavji remains there. We’ve full faith in the judiciary and we’ll appeal against the judgment in the higher court and our leader will come out to lead us once again.” Lalu Prasad, of late, has been grooming Tejaswi Yadav as his political successor. The cricketer-turned-politician son has been visiting every nook and cranny of the state while meeting people and strengthening his base. But, his mother and former Bihar Chief Minister Rabri Devi has something else to air. “We, mother and son both will run the party as Madame Sonia Gandhi does with son Rahul Gandhi,” she said.
Though, the one time partner of Lalu Prasad and now the Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar refused to make any comment on the court verdict, his state party president Basistha Narayan Singh said that with this court verdict other politicians of high caliber would also take a lesson. Party leader Rajiv Ranjan alias Lallan Singh, who was one of the petitioners in the fodder scam case, said that the court verdict has now vindicated the fact that Lalu Prasad conspired with those involved in the multi-crore scam. “Earlier, Lalu Prasad had been raising fingers at us, CBI and others for making him falsely implicated in the case but now the court judgment has proved him wrong”, said Lallan Singh.
However, the BJP leaders appeared visibly excited with the court verdict. Senior state party leader and former Bihar Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi, who too has been one of the petitioners in the fodder scam case, made a cryptic remark: “Boya ped Babul ka to phool kahan se hoye [when you’ve done wrong, the result will not be good for you} What Lalu has got was he deserved.” Modi also gave credit to former CBI officer, now minister in Mamata government in West Bengal, UN Biswas for making a “full- proof” case in the scam”.
But, the question everyone is asking in the state is which party will be benefited from Lalu’s likely oblivion from political arena in the upcoming general elections and where his core Yadav vote bank will switch in the poll. Will the Congress, forging a new political alliance with Nitish Kumar in Bihar, get the benefit or will the BJP, banking on backward vote in its PM’s candidate, Narendra Modi’s name? Where will Lalu’s Muslim voter turn and why? These are some of the questions raging in the state’s political spectrum, post-Lalu Prasad’s incarceration.
Said state BJP leader and former minister Giriraj Singh: “Those who think Lalu Prasad’s vote will go to other political parties are oblivious of the ground realities. His voters will remain with him and intact.” Another political leader too has something similar to offer. “Its very difficult to say that Yadav vote will be switching from Lalu’s flock. They are solidly behind him and will remain with him,” he said preferring anonymity.
However, the political observers are keeping their fingers crossed. “Only time will tell whether this signals the end of Lalu’s political inning or it will herald something new from his party. Though, it’s a big jolt for his political career”, said Professor Nawal Kishore Choudhury. But, a senior journalist tracking Lalu Prasad’s political career for long said that this court verdict will throw him politically finished. “He is the sole leader of the party who can pull the voters and in his absence for a long time, he will lose his capabilities and other parties like JD-U will expand their social base,” said he.
Now, with Lalu Prasad sulking behind the bars in Ranchi jail for five years and that too losing his Lok Sabha membership, he must be a fall guy whose time is up and he can only hope for his comeback. To write his political obituary will definitely be fraught with risk. Who knows, as someone from behind whispered: Picture abhi baaki hai mere dost!