Life after Lalu
With one conviction and more cases coming up, Lalu and family—as well as the RJD—are in a spot
The new year couldn’t have started worse for Lalu Prasad Yadav. Sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail in one of the multiple Bihar fodder scam cases on January 6, there’s no early reprieve in sight for the Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo. Trials in three related cases are expected to conclude in the coming three months. Adverse verdicts, legal experts say, could make it impossible for the beleaguered leader to secure bail pending appeals in higher courts.
And it’s not just Lalu. On the very morning that the CBI court convicted him, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) filed a chargesheet against Misa Bharti, his eldest daughter and Rajya Sabha member, in a money laundering case. And while wife Rabri Devi has chosen to lie low, younger son Tejashwi Yadav too faces prosecution by the CBI in a hotel-for-land scam, dating back to the time Lalu was railway minister in the UPA-I government.
There are real fears now that the continuing legal challenges will derail the RJD, but then few political commentators will write off Lalu, who has shown an uncanny ability
RJD LEADERS HOPE LALU’S CONVICTION WILL BE VIEWED AS POLITICAL PERSECUTION
to pull back from the brink. Just six months after being first convicted in a fodder scam case (September 2013), Lalu teamed up with the Congress to take on the Narendra Modi juggernaut, winning six seats in the 2014 general election. A year later, he astutely sank differences with Nitish Kumar to trounce the belligerent BJP in the Bihar assembly polls. The RJD emerged as the largest party with 80 legislators in the 243-member state assembly.
With Lalu in jail, the RJD leadership is claiming a caste bias in the conviction. They are already pointing to ex-chief minister Jagannath Mishra’s acquittal in the same case in which Lalu was convicted. To build on the sentiment, Tejashwi plans to tour the state after January 14 to reach out to the RJD’s Yadav and Muslim support base. Party leaders hope supporters will view Lalu’s conviction as political persecution. But they are also aware that with Nitish now in the NDA camp, much of the RJD’s prospects will depend on how the Congress under Rahul Gandhi treats the party.
Reports from the ground suggest that his second fodder scam conviction has had practically no impact on Lalu’s Yadav-Muslim supporters. For the time being, however, his absence from public life will cause a huge political vacuum in Bihar. Sons Tejashwi and Tej Pratap have a mountain to climb before they can match their father’s political stature. The only comfort for them is that Lok Sabha 2019 is still more than a year away. But will it be enough time for the party to bounce back?
FODDER STRUCK Lalu arrives at the CBI special court in Ranchi, Jan. 6