Every time a central investigative agency – be it the CBI, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) or the Income Tax department – conducts a raid at Lalu Prasad Yadav’s residence or that of his family members, rumour mills are agog with numerous theories questioning the longevity of the ‘Grand Alliance Government’ in Bihar headed by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
To a certain extent, the rumours have some ground, given the fact that an image-conscious Nitish has been known to show zero tolerance towards any form of corruption.
Such is his disdain for politicians charged with graft that during his first term as Chief Minister in 2005, he made his newly sworn-in minister Jitan Ram Manjhi resign over a probe against Manjhi when he was a junior minister in the Rabri Devi government.
Have CBI Raids Marred Lalu-Nitish Ties?
On 7 July, the BJP asked Nitish if he would take similar action against his deputy, Tejaswi Yadav, who has also been named by the CBI as an accused in the 11-year-old case.
The CBI, in its FIR, charged Lalu Prasad – then-Railway Minister (from 2004-2009 in UPA-I) – with rigging the tender process to sub-lease two railway hotels to his favoured hoteliers. The CBI says that in exchange of the favour, Lalu received three acres of prime land in Patna through a shell company allegedly floated by his confidant and Rajya Sabha MP Prem Gupta’s wife, Sarla Gupta. Since the said land is owned by Rabri and Tejaswi, they have also been named as accused in the FIR, along with Lalu.
Lalu, who reached Patna on Friday evening from Ranchi (where he had to appear in a fodder scam case), gave a point-by-point rebuttal to the CBI charges.
The CBI charges are false and misleading as the hotel was leased to Kochar brothers after they were found to be the highest bidder. The open tender policy, which was formulated by Atal Bihar Vajpayee Government, was followed in toto during my tenure as Railway Minister. Thirdly, in 2006, Tejaswi was a minor. Why has CBI named him an accused? Or for that matter, why drag Rabri who was not even a public servant in 2006?Lalu Prasad Yadav, RJD chief
“Neither Amit Shah nor Narendra Modi, at whose behest CBI officials are carrying out raids, would be able to bend or decimate Lalu. The more they attack me, the more stronger I will emerge,” he told supporters at his Patna residence.
Bihar’s political history bears testimony to this fact. In October 2013, when Lalu was convicted and jailed in the fodder scam, the RJD registered a landslide victory during the 2015 State Assembly elections – to emerge the single largest party. It is said that it was Lalu’s vote base and Nitish’s face, which helped them hand the BJP a crushing defeat.
So the moot point is: Will Nitish now dump Lalu given the changed political scenario amid series of raids against his alliance partner?
Those who have read Nitish will say: No.
Why Nitish Won’t Join BJP
A former JDU leader, who was earlier a minister in Nitish’s cabinet, said on conditions of anonymity that there are three reasons why Nitish will not join the NDA bandwagon despite the BJP wooing him day in and day out.
“First, what will he gain by joining the NDA? He is already the Chief Minister of Bihar. A weakened Lalu Prasad suits him more than an aggressive BJP. Second, if the NDA offers him the post of a Union Minister, he may not feel as comfortable at the Centre as he was in Vajpayee’s tenure given the dictatorial attitude of the present BJP leadership. Third, given the soft corner Rahul Gandhi has for Nitish (and the way the Congress vice-president has taken steps to mollify him), the JDU president can still have some hope to be Opposition face for the top executive post in 2019,” the politician said.
“Only a Fool Can Dump Lalu for Immediate Gains”
The Congress agrees.
“The raids and land deal charges may, for a while, create a perception about Lalu being corrupt. But a shrewd politician that he is, Lalu is firming up his support base. His unequivocal support to Meira Kumar for presidential polls will fetch him more Dalit votes (which constitute nearly 16 percent of the electorate), apart from his two traditional vote base: Muslims and Yadavs. Under such emerging political scenario, only a fool can dump Lalu for immediate gains,” said a Congress leader, requestiong anonimity.
(Neena Choudhary is a Bihar-based journalist.)
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