Lalu Prasad Yadav holds a unique distinction in Indian politics. He is a convict in a Rs 954-crore fodder scam, sentenced for five years in jail and is out on bail, yet he lords over the Nitish Kumar- Tejashwi Yadav government in Bihar, openly patronises the likes of jailed don Mohammad Shahabuddin, campaigns for the Congress outside of Bihar and is one of the key architects of a hypothetical grand anti-BJP coalition for the 2019 General Election.
Monday's Supreme Court's verdict has dealt a severe blow to the powerful RJD chief, not just by reinstating criminal conspiracy charges, but also by ordering that the former Bihar chief minister be tried in each of the five remaining fodder scam cases against him. The trial process for each case will be separate for him. The Supreme Court took a very adverse view of the Jharkhand High Court's 2014 judgment and overturned it. The high court had said since Lalu was convicted in one case, he could not be charged separately in similar other cases.
The problem for Lalu is that he has already been convicted in one such case and the possibility of him being convicted in other cases of same nature is very high. A special CBI court had in September 2013 pronounced him guilty of fraudulent withdrawal from Chaibasa (now in Jharkhand) treasury. This withdrawal was part of the nearly Rs 1,000-crore fodder scam that took place when Lalu was Bihar chief minister.
Lalu's name will ever stand out as a person who lost his membership of Parliament in the 15th Lok Sabha because of his conviction in a corruption case and the consequent five-year jail term.
The implications for Lalu of the apex court ruling are grave. It will have a two-fold impact — legal and political. While the legal battle will be fought in courts on facts, evidence and legality, what has complicated matters for the RJD chief is that the Supreme Court has fixed a timeline — nine months to be precise — for the lower court to finish the trial and deliver its verdict. What will bother Lalu, his son Tejashwi, minister son Tej Pratap, Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) daughter Misa Bharti, his former chief minister and MLC wife Rabri Devi and his other party ministers and MLAs more are the political implications of the Supreme Court order.
Lalu has been a force behind the RJD-JD(U)-Congress coalition in Bihar. Although Nitish was the chief ministerial face for the 2015 Bihar Assembly election, but it was actually Lalu and his strong Muslim-Yadav social constituency that propelled this coalition to power. Nitish used to call Lalu his elder brother and justified his unethical unholy alliance with the RJD as a project to save the nation from the communal clutches of a resurgent Narendra Modi and BJP.
Nitish came back to power, but the alliance revived a politically-marginalised Lalu, his family and his private limited party called RJD.
The Supreme Court order has now compounded problems for Nitish, who has proved that he is practitioner of realpolitik where all his actions are guided by the pursuit of power, however, in less than a month too many headline-hogging wrongs relating to Lalu have surfaced.
Here's a sample: Lalu and family acquiring land, constructing a huge mall worth an estimated value of Rs 200 crore and making the government pay for soil dug from there to fill Patna's botanical garden; landed property given to him by ministerial aspirants Kanti Singh and Raghunath Jha; alleged acquisition of a beer brewery; directing the Siwan district superintendent of police to act on issues told to him by jailed criminal Shahabuddin; and RJD ministers and legislators using their offices residence for commercial purposes.
Nitish has so far not reacted to these charges. His silence could be strategic because Lalu holds the key to the survival of the government that Nitish leads. But given the magnitude of the apex court's verdict, Nitish will be forced to react in due course. If he does not act or react, this would give an impression that Nitish like Manmohan Singh is turning a blind eye to his ally's multifaceted corruption just to stay in office.
Nitish's image of 'Sushashan Babu' (good governance man) is under severe strain. Several of party colleagues are not comfortable with constant pulls and pressures that keep coming from the RJD chief. In September-October last year, when mafia don Shahabuddin was released from jail, he led a procession of over 1,000 SUVs from Bhagalpur Jail to his hometown of Siwan, lampooned Nitish for days and called him "a leader (chief minister) of compulsions of circumstances". Nitish's JD(U) and Lalu's RJD had explored possibilities of realignment of political parties and formation of an alternate government.
The problem, however, was two-fold: First, the Congress was not willing to chose Lalu over Nitish or vice versa and second, the composition of the state Assembly is such that no alternate government is possible without BJP or without splitting either the JD(U) or RJD.
The RJD is the single biggest party with 80 seats, JD(U) follows with 71 seats, Congress 27 seats and BJP 53 seats. The total strength of the Assembly is 243.
In the next nine months, the timeframe given by the Supreme Court to the CBI court to finish its trial and deliver a verdict, will be loaded with possibilities in Bihar. But the onus to react to the emerging situations is ironically less on Lalu and more on Nitish.
Updated Date: May 08, 2017 15:51 PM