CBI raids Lalu’s home in Patna, grills son Tejaswi; Lalu cries vendetta by BJP and RSS, vows to defeat them
CBI agents searched 12 locations countrywide, including Lalu Prasad’s residence in Patna and grilled his younger son and Bihar deputy chief minister Tejaswi Yadav for over three hours
PATNA: Despite a rainy day in Patna, CBI searches - raids in political parlance - on 12 properties owned by RJD boss Lalu Prasad and his numerous family gave Bihar’s politics an electric charge Friday.
At the centre of the day’s events is the question how Lalu Prasad came into ownership of three acres of prime land in Patna worth Rs 32 crore for a mere Rs 54 lakh. His supporters, however, are asking why the question is being raised now, when the RJD boss is busy trying to unite the opposition on one platform.
First the raids. CBI agents searched 12 locations countrywide, including Lalu Prasad’s residence in Patna and grilled his younger son and Bihar deputy chief minister Tejaswi Yadav for over three hours Friday.
The searches were purportedly conducted to nail irregularities committed, allegedly by the RJD chief, in the award of tenders for maintenance of some railway hotels when he was the railway minister (2004-2009) of the country. In particular, the agents were sniffing the dubious transfer of the said piece of land to a firm controlled by his family members by the owners of a firm that was allotted two railway hotels in Ranchi and Puri.
The scene outside 10 Circular Road, the official residence of Lalu Prasad’s wife and former CM Rabri Devi, was reminiscent of CBI raids on Lalu Prasad’s residence in 1996 when he was the chief minister of Bihar. Nearly 25 CBI officials reached the Lalu-Rabri residence in five cars at 7 am and began a search of the sprawling premises. It went on for ten hours.
The timing was intriguing. Neither Lalu Prasad nor his wary ally Nitish Kumar were in station. The RJD chief was in Ranchi for a court appearance in a fodder scam case; and the Bihar chief minister was in Rajgir, a health resort 100 km way.
However, Lalu’s sons Tejaswi (the Bihar deputy CM) and Tej Pratap Yadav (the Bihar health minister), and their mother Rabri Devi (an MLC) were available and were grilled separately for three hours. The mother and sons were in touch with the paterfamilias on the telephone, and hundreds of RJD supporters gathered outside the residence. Riot police manned Circular Road until the quest got over at 5.30 pm.
Lalu Prasad: I know why they are doing this
Before taking the flight back to Patna, Lalu Prasad supplied his views to the media in Ranchi: “These raids by CBI -- after they lodged an FIR secretly -- are part of a conspiracy and vendetta by Narendra Modi, BJP and RSS to politically weaken me and send me to jail. They know my political action is aimed at the 2019 polls. So they are doing this. But I am not afraid.” Lalu Prasad said he advised his wife and sons on the phone to “treat the CBI officials respectfully” and cooperate with the search.
“I am absolutely innocent. I did not allow any wrongdoing in the railways’ open tender process. If CBI calls me, I will give them all the information they want,” he said, adding that it was his initiatives as railway minister that “brought the Indian Railways back into profits”.
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“I may be rubbed into the soil, but I will take rest only after removing Narendra Modi and BJP. We will not tolerate their arrogance,” said Yadav.
“I have been fighting CBI cases for 20 years. My energy and youth have been spent in fighting these cases,” he said.
He said the RJD’s August 27 rally in Patna, in which several non-NDA parties are set to participate, would be held as per schedule.
The case: A sweet deal ages ago
The latest developments in the cut-and-thrust between the Union government and Lalu Prasad began on Thursday with the CBI filing an FIR against t6he RJD chief, Rabri Devi, Tejaswi Yadav, Rajya Sabha member Prem Chand Gupta’s wife Sarla Gupta, Sujata Hotels Pvt Ltd directors Vijay Kochhar and Vinay Kochhar, Delight Marketing (now Lara Projects), and former IRCTC managing director P K Goel.
The case charges under criminal conspiracy (120-B), cheating (420) under IPC (Indian Penal Code) and corruption (Prevention of Corruption Act).
Rakesh Asthana, the CBI’s additional director, said at a press conference in Delhi that between 2004 and 2014, the Indian Railways fist transferred its two BNR Hotels located at Puri and Ranchi to IRCTC and later their operations, maintenance and upkeep, were given on lease to a private firm named Sujata Hotels Pvt Ltd based in Patna.
"The allegation is that the tender process was rigged and the conditions were tweaked to help Sujata Hotels. In return, three acres of land in western Patna was given to Delight Marketing, which is known to the family of Lalu Yadav at a very low cost. Subsequently, during 2010-14, this land was further transferred to another company Lara Projects owned by family members of Lalu Yadav," Asthana said.
The land was valued at Rs 32.5 crore as per the official registration rate, but was transferred for Rs 65 lakh to Lara Projects, while the market rate was Rs 94 crore, as per the FIR.
A statement issued by CBI said, “This favour was allegedly returned to the company by award of long-term lease for the BNR hotels at Ranchi and Puri by manipulating the tender process.”
Prior to this deal, in 2001, a decision had been taken by Indian Railways to hand over management of catering services, including hotels, to IRCTC. The BNR Hotels in Ranchi and Puri were identified for transfer of management and an MoU was signed between the Railways and IRCTC on March 19, 2004 detailing the modalities of transfer of management.
The FIR reads, “Enquiry disclosed that after being inducted as railway minister in May 2004, Lalu Prasad Yadav entered into a criminal conspiracy with Vijay and Vinay Kochar of Sujata Hotel, Sarla Gupta, wife of his close associate Prem Chand Gupta (RJD MP) and IRCTC officials with the object of causing undue pecuniary advantage to himself and others.”
The politics: Nitish is not easy to game
NEW DELHI: The BJP is hoping that the CBI’s actions against Lalu Prasad and his family will “smoke Nitish Kumar out of the Mahagathbandhan”.
Accordingly, soon after news broke of the searches of Lalu Prasad’s properties, BJP leaders in Bihar raised a clamour for ‘Mr Clean’ Nitish Kumar to commit himself in the matter.
Their hope is that the Bihar chief minister will walk the extra distance to join the NDA fold, which would greatly improve the ruling alliance’s prospects in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
“By extending support to the NDA nominee Ram Nath Kovind in the presidential election, Nitish Kumar’s JD (U) has already broken ranks with the Opposition. But he is likely to take his own time to assess the situation,” said a senior BJP leader.
However, a section of the BJP also believes that the CBI action Friday could end up helping the Bihar chief minister while yielding no gain to the saffron outfit.
“A few Bihar state BJP leaders yearn for Kumar to return to the NDA so that they can share power with him again. But they forget that resignations by Tejashwi Yadav and Tej Pratap Yadav will only make Nitish Kumar more powerful. He can appoint Abdul Bari Siddiqui, a senior RJD MLA, as deputy chief minister and play the Muslim card to expand his support base,” said another BJP leader.
Another section within the BJP Nitish Kumar’s next political move cannot be predicted. “Remember, those who are now claiming he will return to the NDA always used to say that he will never leave the saffron camp. But he did leave the NDA in 2013,” said another senior BJP leader.