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What Lalu Prasad’s conviction in fodder scam case means for RJD, its national allies

Insiders feel the conviction of Lalu Prasad in fodder scam will leave a vacuum in the RJD. The biggest challenge for the party is whether it will continue to remain a strong opposition force in the senior leader’s absence.

india Updated: Dec 23, 2017 23:31 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Patna
Lalu Prasad Yadav,Lalu Prasad convicted,Fodder scam case
RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav escorted by police officials after being convicted by a special CBI court in a fodder scam case, in Ranchi on Saturday.(PTi Photo)

The conviction of Lalu Prasad in the fodder scam is likely to come as a setback for the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), given that he has been the party’s guiding force since its formation in 1997.

Insiders feel the incarceration of the veteran leader, who has kept the party relevant on the national front through frequent interactions with everybody from commoners to top leaders of likeminded parties, will leave a vacuum in the RJD. Lalu, however, can find solace in the the knowledge that he has successfully positioned his son, Tejashwi, as the de-facto number two in the party. The RJD national executive had even passed a unanimous resolution that the next election would be found under Tejashwi’s leadership.

Many feel the RJD supremo’s decision to project his younger son as the party’s future leader was taken in consideration of the knowledge that he could soon be incarcerated in the fodder scam. “The RJD has seen a smooth transition of power in the last few years. So, even Lalu’s imprisonment should not affect the party’s functioning,” said a senior leader on the condition of anonymity.

However, others wonder if the former deputy chief minister has the political experience to keep the herd together. There have been signs of dissent in the party, although muted, ever since its grand alliance with Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) came apart in July. There are also chances of Tejashwi coming under renewed attack from rivals over graft charges leveled against him in the hotel scam, for which the CBI questioned Lalu’s family but did not file a chargesheet.

Fodder scam verdict: In a nutshell
Convicted politicians
  • Lalu Prasad: Former Chief Minister of Bihar
  • Jagdish Sharma: Former Janata Dal (United) MP from Bihar
  • Dr RK Rana: Former Bihar minister
Other pending cases against former Bihar CMs Lalu Prasad and Jagannath Mishra:
  • RC 68 (A)/96 (fake withdrawal of Rs 33.61 crore from Chaibasa treasury, judgment expected in January next year)
  • RC 38 (A)/96 (fake withdrawal of Rs 3.31 crore from Dumka Treasury)
  • RC 47 (A)/96 (fake withdrawal of Rs 139.39 crore from Doranda treasury, Ranchi)
Convicted IAS Officers
  • Beck Julius: former AHD secretary
  • Mahesh Prasad: former AHD secretary
  • Phool Chand Singh: former finance commissioner
Lalu’s prison terms
  • July 30, 1997- December 11, 1997: 135 days
  • November 26, 1998- January 8, 1999: 44 days
  • May 5, 2000- June 18, 2000: 45 days
  • November 26, 2001- December 21, 2001: 26 days
  • December 22, 2001- January 27, 2002: 37 days
  • One day in disproportionate asset (DA) case in 2000
  • September 30, 2013 to December 15, 2013: 77 days
  • Total Days: 365
  • A jail year consists of nearly 9 months for a convicted prisoner after subtracting the statutory remission, which varies from state to state, from the whole one year of 12 months.

What’s more, the RJD cannot insulate itself from the taint of corruption as long as its top leader remains behind bars – a handle that the BJP and JD(U) will gladly exploit to the fullest. Insiders feel it may make even the Congress, an otherwise all-weather ally, consider rethinking its relationship with the regional party in the 2019 polls.

In the circumstances, the biggest challenge facing the RJD is whether it will continue to remain a strong opposition force in Lalu’s absence as the Lok Sabha polls draw closer. The Yadav chieftain, with his keen eye for picking candidates in accordance with their winnability and the uncanny ability to charm voters, has been the party’s biggest asset.

Senior party leaders admit that the party will face an uphill task in Lalu’s absence during the upcoming polls, both in terms of seat-sharing with allies and selecting candidates. “We do feel that the party will lose much of its fizz if Lalu remains in jail for an extended period,” said another RJD leader on the condition of anonymity.

Lalu’s absence could also jeopardise the chances of 18 political parties, including the Congress, coming together to form a grand alliance against the BJP in the parliamentary elections. For one, the incarceration of the RJD chief – a major proponent of unity among non-Hindutva parties – will prevent him from mediating between diverse political entities. Two, Lalu’s second conviction may result in him losing much of his credibility, forcing allies to hunt for other options.

The RJD chief had lately been putting up a brave front, stating that he will only emerge stronger from another jail term. “I am not scared of jail, and the BJP cannot cow me down,” he said on many occasions. By dubbing the attempts at incarcerating him as politically motivated, he aimed to secure Yadav and Muslim backing for the party and turn the tables on the JD(U)-BJP combine in the state.

Nonetheless, insiders feel Lalu’s conviction may not immediately affect the party’s functioning, considering that it has a solid organisational structure – helmed by Tejashwi and supported by senior leaders like Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, Jagdananand Singh and Ram Chandra Purbe – in place.

“Lalu has been jailed in the past too, and each time, it only served to galvanise the party cadre and bring leaders together. He will bounce back on this occasion too, and it’s the JD(U)-BJP combine that will face the heat,” said a senior leader close to the RJD chief.

First Published: Dec 23, 2017 19:23 IST