Life af­ter Lalu

With one con­vic­tion and more cases com­ing up, Lalu and fam­ily—as well as the RJD—are in a spot

India Today - - STATES - By Amitabh Sri­vas­tava

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


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

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