PATNA: The day Lalu Prasad, the man at the centre of Bihar’s politics for nearly three decades, was convicted in a second case of the Rs 1,000-crore fodder scam, he threw a challenge at “feudal forces” in his characteristic style.
“Feudal forces, I know Lalu is not just a thorn on your paths, but also a nail in your eyes. But you cannot pull him out so easily,” he said in a tweet, setting the stage for the likely tenor of politics in Bihar while he remains locked up in jail.
Sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail by a special CBI court in Ranchi on January 6, the 69-year-old Rashtriya Janata Dal chief is almost on his way out of active politics in India’s third most-populous state. The five-year jail term slapped on him from a September 2013 conviction has barred him from contesting elections for 11 years.
Judgments in three more cases of the 21-year-old fodder scam, in which he figures as an accused, are set to come later this year. Ongoing investigations by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate into cases against him and his family members for allegedly amassing massive benami properties are nearing completion.
Bihar’s ruling BJP, which fought the RJD and the “jungle raj” that the 15-year rule by Lalu and his wife Rabri Devi symbolised for many, has triumphantly dubbed the fodder scam verdicts as a potential end for the “Lalu brand of politics”. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), which ruled in alliance with the RJD for 20 months till July 2017 and went on to tie up with the BJP, has expressed similar optimism.
With the possibilities of Lalu’s continued imprisonment being high, his absence from active politics may hamper chances of the RJD, which he founded in 1997, and may open up Bihar’s political pastures for the BJP-led NDA. But that’s not as easy as it seeems.
The RJD, of which Lalu has been the national president for 20 years, is currently the single largest party in the Bihar Assembly. His two sons — Opposition leader Tejaswi Yadav, 28, and former health minister Tej Pratap Yadav, 30 — are bracing to keep his legacies of social justice and secularism alive with help from a galaxy of his longtime associates.
Lalu’s hard-won image as the “messiah of the poor, backward castes and minorities,” which he acquired mainly during the seven years he served as Bihar CM (1990-97), dimmed after his 2013 conviction. He spent 87 days in jail before walking out on bail and resumed political work. But his strong socialist and secular credentials — participation in the JP movement and getting LK Advani arrested in Bihar’s Samastipur in the middle of the Ram Janmbhoomi Rath Yatra in October 1990 — prompted his arch-rival Nitish Kumar to ally with him for Bihar’s 2015 Assembly polls.
The Lalu-Nitish combine and Congress together defeated the NDA despite its sterling performance in Bihar in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
“Whenever Lalu Prasad has faced a major crisis, he has emerged stronger. He is just not a political leader; he is an ideology. The BJP’s dreams of an RJD-free Bihar will remain perennially unfulfilled,” said RJD national vice-president Raghuvansh Prasad Singh. But the ruling JD(U) and BJP and their allies — LJP, RLSP and HAM — rubbished it.
A Special CBI court in Ranchi sentenced Lalu to three-and-half years jail and `10 lakh fine on January 6
A five-year jail term slapped on him from a September 2013 conviction barred him from contesting elections for 11 years
Judgments in three cases related to the fodder scam are set to come this year
CBI and ED investigations against him on cases related to disproportionate assets are nearing completion