It was his trademark political style to find humour in every situation. But today, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) strongman Lalu Prasad is not likely to find much to smile about after his conviction in one of the cases in the Rs 950-crore fodder scam, which has been in the courts for 17 long years.
Though the quantum of sentencing is yet to come, this body blow spells the eclipse of the political career of the man who was once the czar of Patna. When he was put in jail in 1997 for the same scam, Mr Prasad once out on bail rode home on an elephant surrounded by adoring supporters. But today, that euphoria has gone, Lalu’s witticisms have been overtaken in his own state by the dynamic governance model of the JD(U)’s Nitish Kumar.
But, a very strong point has been driven home which the public at large, fed up with corruption, will appreciate. The law may take its time in catching up with you, howsoever powerful you are, but catch up at some point of time it will. Along with Lalu Prasad, another 44 people have been convicted for the scam. The only thing that could perhaps have saved him is the ill-fated ordinance, which is now in cold storage.
The last time he was put in jail, he smartly outmanoeuvred his political rivals by installing his wife in his place. This time around there is no such option. The best he can hope for is to see that his party is not swamped in Bihar. And here he may have a fighting chance. Both in the 2009 general elections and the 2010 assembly elections, the RJD emerged with the second largest percentage of the voteshare.
So, the party may be able to stay afloat for a while. But the message that will go out to all parties is that it does not ultimately pay to induct or retain tainted people in their ranks. And as for those with criminal records, it is quite possible that they will think twice before entering the electoral arena though past experience suggests that this is more a fond hope than a reality.
While the Congress has expressed happiness at the verdict, it must be somewhat unsettled. Mr Prasad has often come to its defence in Parliament, taking on its opponents in his inimitable style. For Nitish Kumar, this will be a shot in the arm at a time when he has lost a bit of his lustre.
The alignments and re-alignments of the votebank, which many are raising, is not the real issue at the moment. It is the major boost that the battle against corruption has got in the fall of a politician as mighty as Lalu.