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Fodder scam case: Who will lead the RJD in Lalu Prasad’s absence?

RJD supremo Lalu Prasad, who was convicted in a fodder scam case Saturday, has said his sons Tejashwi and Tej Pratap are competent enough to lead the party.

india Updated: Dec 23, 2017 23:14 IST
Anirban Guha Roy
Anirban Guha Roy
Hindustan Times, Patna
Lalu Prasad Yadav,Tejashwi Yadav,Tej Pratap Yadav
RJD supremo Lalu Prasad arrives at a special CBI court for a hearing in the fodder scam case in Ranchi on Saturday. (PTI Photo)

Who will steer the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) while Lalu Prasad is away?

This question surfaced several times since 1997, when the RJD chief was first imprisoned in connection with the fodder scam, but was buried just as quickly by hardcore followers. The party shied away from anointing a number two even in 2013, when Lalu was incarcerated for the second time.

The RJD chief is now staring at a third stint in prison, following his conviction by a CBI court on Saturday, but there is a marked change in circumstances. Tejashwi, his younger son, seems firmly in the saddle both as the state opposition leader and the undeclared number two in the party.

So, will Tejashwi now helm the RJD as its de-facto president? There are no easy answers to the question, with the RJD top bass maintaining that Lalu will continue to head the party even if he is incarcerated. “Lalu is the president, and he will remain so. Where is the question of number two? The party ran smoothly during his previous stint in jail, and that is how it will be this time too,” said Jagdanand Singh, senior leader and close confidant of the RJD chief.

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.

The statement is contextual, given how the RJD – which has long bore the stigma of being a family run party – wants to avoid any possibility of a power struggle erupting between siblings Tejashwi, Tej Pratap and Misa B harti. Even Lalu seemed ambiguous on the matter earlier this morning. “Tejashwi and Tej Pratap are competent enough to lead the party, along with its lakhs of workers and functionaries,” he told reporters.

While all seems well between Tej Pratap and Tejashwi on the surface, with the former even seconding his younger brother’s name for elevation as the RJD’s future face at a recent national council meeting, one can’t miss the fierce competition for political recognition between the two. Tej Pratap has become particularly assertive in recent times, trying to emulate his father’s rustic charm by taking tractor rides, throwing invectives at political rivals (including threatening to treat BJP leader Sushil Modi to a sound thrashing) and blowing conches at the party’s ‘BJP baghao, desh bachao’ rally. The suave Tejashwi, on the other hand, has tried to remain political correct even while picking on the chief minister or ridiculing state policy. After all, great responsibility comes with the great power he has been promised with.

Misa Bharti, a Rajya Sabha MP, might also try to assert herself in the coming days. Despite being charged with running shell companies and illegally amassing properties by the Enforcement Directorate, she intends to contest and emerge victorious from the Patliputra parliamentary seat in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.

“It will be interesting to see how the two brothers conduct themselves. The onus of keeping the party’s 80 MLAs together is now on Tejashwi, considering that he is the RJD legislative party leader. And, of course, he will be the one responsible for steering the party ahead in the 2019 elections,” said a senior leader.

The RJD chief, nevertheless, will continue to call the shots from prison. “Lalu cannot afford to pass on the baton to his son at this juncture, when the party is still not attuned to a second-tier leadership hierarchy,” another leader said on the condition of anonymity.

This, however, may only be the start of the RJD’s woes. Many in the party believe it may plunge into a bigger crisis if the CBI files a chargesheet in the land for hotel scam, in which Lalu, Rabri Devi and Tejashwi have been named as the main accused. “If that happens, it could be a double whammy for the RJD’s first family as well as the party,” a senior leader admitted.

First Published: Dec 23, 2017 20:11 IST