RJD leader and former railway minister Lalu Prasad Yadav's appearance at the CBI headquarters on Thursday for questioning in connection with alleged corruption in awarding the maintenance contract for two IRCTC hotels to a private firm is likely to provide the BJP with some much-needed handle against the secular bandwagon.
The interrogation is likely to open up an old can of worms, causing further embarrassment for the RJD chief, who seems to be attempting to emerge as a king-maker for the anti-BJP front in the 2019 Lok Sabha Polls.
Lalu's case is over the maintenance contract of two Railway-owned hotels in Ranchi and Puri awarded during his tenure. As per allegations, the contract was handed over to a company in return for a piece of land in Patna. The RJD chief's son Tejashwi has also been summoned by the CBI for interrogation on Friday.
Unlike the fodder scam, in which Lalu is a convict, the railway tender case has an optical value. A multi-crore shopping mall project involved in the enquiry, built on the land allegedly acquired in the scam by Lalu's family, provides a visible dimension to the allegations against him.
Whatever be the final outcome of the case a few years down the line, the massive private project in the heart of Patna, which is dubbed as Bihar's biggest shopping mall is likely to be played up in the upcoming 2019 Parliamentary polls as an embodiment of misuse of public resources by the RJD chief and his aides.
Interpreting the details of the scam, The Wire reported that he handed over the contract for the maintenance of two railway-run hotels to a private company, in lieu of which his son Tejashwi received ownership of a prime property in Patna.
The Wire further said that in 2006, the contract to manage two railway-run BNR hotels – in Ranchi and Puri – was won by one Sujata Hotels Pvt Ltd.
As per the allegations, the plot of land, on which the mall is being constructed by RJD MLA Abu Dojana, was transferred to Rabri Devi and Tejashwi over a period of four years at a rate much lower than the market price, by a shell company.
Significantly, a part of the case is also enquired by the Enforcement Directorate (ED). On 26 July, the ED slapped a case against Lalu in connection with this case.
There are other cases of similar nature against him and his family. The Indian Express reported that Lalu's daughter and Rajya Sabha member Misa Bharti is already facing a probe by the central agency into another Rs 8,000-crore money laundering case.
Bharti and her husband Shailesh Kumar owned a farmhouse in Delhi that was also sealed by ED earlier, as they could not demonstrate that the farmhouse was acquired using money from legitimate sources.
The newspaper further reported that the family also faces another probe by the Income Tax authorities into allegations of corrupt land deals worth Rs 1,000 crores in addition to tax evasion.
The interrogation process that has begun in the enquiry process of the railway tendering case would only add optics to the anti-corruption tirade of BJP targeted against Lalu, who only four months back had hinted a possible national alliance with Akhilesh Yadav and Priyanka Gandhi.
"If Akhilesh, Mayawati, Arvind Kejriwal, and Priyanka come together then no one can stop us in 2019," he had reportedly said. Yadav had also organised a massive rally against BJP in Patna on 27 August.
Though Lalu has been barred by the court from contesting elections for 11 years due to his conviction in the much-discussed fodder scam, he, with his party, cannot be underestimated as possible king-makers in national politics.
The 2015 Bihar Assembly elections, where his party as an ally of JD(U), had secured a clean sweep – at a time when the Narendra Modi wave was still washing the length and breadth of the nation – is a vivid example of his political clout.
Though the alliance with JD(U) was shaken off by Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar recently, throwing Lalu out of power, RJD still holds the biggest share of Bihar Assembly seats.
The present economic slowdown and rising communal violence provide a platform for the Opposition to unite against the BJP, as hoped by Lalu. His relevance in the politics of Bihar, a state that has as many as 40 seats in the Lok Sabha could be a major cause of concern for the BJP. The interrogation that has begun provides the BJP with a much-required opportunity to corner the Opposition.
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