A CBI court in Ranchi on Monday convicted RJD chief Lalu Prasad in a 17-year-old fodder scam case, leaving him staring at a possible jail sentence of three to seven years and disqualification from Parliament.
The verdict against the former Bihar chief minister cast a shadow over the future of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), an ally of the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre, and will have a bearing on the course of state politics.
Lalu and 44 others including Jagannath Mishra, another former Bihar CM, were convicted of fraudulent withdrawal of Rs. 37.70 crore from the Chaibasa treasury.
The court sentenced eight of the convicted to three years’ imprisonment and will announce the punishment for Lalu and the rest on October 3, through video conferencing.
After the verdict, Lalu, who represents Saran constituency in the Lok Sabha, urged the court to consider awarding lesser punishment to him. He said, “I was the chief minister of Bihar for two consecutive terms and was Union railway minister. Please consider awarding lesser punishment to me.”
Lalu, 66, appeared calm when he was brought out from the court, but did not take any questions. He was taken to Birsa Munda Central jail on the outskirts of Ranchi.
Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) public prosecutor BMP Singh said, “The court held Lalu Prasad guilty of criminal conspiracy under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code and the Prevention of Corruption Act.
“The convicts sentenced three years of imprisonment were released on bail. This indicates that the other convicts would get sentences above three years.”
A Lalu confidant admitted the RJD was rattled. “Everybody knows, there is no leader in the RJD besides him. He is the party. If he is jailed, the party too is jailed — politically.”
The RJD chief’s son Tejaswi Yadav said, “We will appeal in high court. We have full faith in the judiciary.”
The Chaibasa treasury case is just one of the many in the RS. 950 crore animal husbandry department scam — commonly known as the fodder scam — in united Bihar (prior to Jharkhand’s formation).
The RJD had hoped the government’s ordinance designed to protect convicted lawmakers would come to the party chief’s aid.
The fate of the ordinance, which came following a Supreme Court ruling on immediate disqualification of legislators convicted for at least two years, however, looks bleak after Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s dramatic thumbs down.
What would worry the RJD is the possibility of the Congress going with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United).
The Congress, which is seen as increasingly warming up to the JD(U), gave a guarded response to Lalu’s conviction, while steering clear of questions on the future of its alliance with the RJD.
“It’s too early to say what impact it will have on alliance in Bihar and Jharkhand. We cannot say anything on what will happen about alliance,” Congress communication department chief Ajay Maken told reporters.
Video: Lalu Prasad convicted, faces disqualification as MP