A few hours before the CBI court awarded 3.5 years jail term to RJD president Lalu Prasad on Saturday, one of my former drivers, Mohammad Jameel, called me up.
“Lalu ji pe judgement aa gaya Madam? (Has the judgement related to Lalu Prasad been delivered?), he enquired, while driving his taxi somewhere in north Bihar.
I said: “No. But it could be pronounced any moment.”
“Dua kijiyega ki teen saal se jyada ki saza nahi ho (Pray the jail sentence is not more than three years),” he pleaded before signing off.
As the phone disconnected, I realised how politically conscious the people of Bihar are. And how legally aware even a driver could be. Jameel was worried precisely because someone had informed him (as he later explained to me) that if the jail sentence was up to three years, the convict could apply for bail in the same court and may get bail the same day. Otherwise, if the quantum of punishment was for more than three years, the convict could face a tough time in securing bail from the High Court concerned.
Now, contrast this episode with the self-styled political commentators sitting in different TV studios in and around the national capital and shouting on top of their voice how “Lalu has been finished,” “It’s end of the road for Lalu,” “All OBCs have shifted to Nitish,” and a prominent journalist predicting “RJD is one the verge of split.”
Perhaps the journo who predicted that Lalu’s outfit may eventually split was quite poor in Maths.
After the latest amendment, the anti-defection law has got such teeth that it’s a herculean task for anyone to engineer a split in the single largest party in the Bihar Assembly – the RJD – with 80 MLAs in its kitty. To escape the anti-defection law, at least 54 MLAs will have to form a separate group before splitting the parent party, the RJD.
Unlike Nitish, Lalu’s Vote Base Has Always Been Intact
But then, haven’t we heard such similar noises from the same set of political scientists earlier too. Ever since Lalu was imprisoned in the fodder scam case for the first time in July 1997 (and this is his seventh jail sentence), reams of newsprint have gone into writing Lalu’s political obituary. One may differ with his ideology, his views on social justice and his eagerness to empower the downtrodden, but it’s an undeniable fact that Lalu today remains the biggest mass leader in caste-ridden Bihar.
Unlike Nitish, who has always ascended to power using the crutches of either the BJP or the RJD-Congress combine, Lalu has his vote base intact. Even when he lost miserably in 2010 elections, he had his 20 percent voters swearing by him.
And there is a reason behind this. A majority of the state’s 28 percent population (comprising 16 percent Muslims and 12 percent Yadavs) have stood by Lalu like a rock. In fact, it was Lalu’s vote base, combined with Nitish’s face, which helped the Grand Alliance (comprising JD-U, RJD and the Congress) give the BJP-led NDA a decisive and crushing defeat in the 2015 Assembly elections.
The RJD has weathered many a storm. And this time too, the party will emerge stronger after the latest round of crisis. Those who are under the impression that Lalu’s jail sentence will mark the end of the road for RJD are actually living in a fool’s paradise.Shivanand Tiwary, RJD National Vice-President
RJD May Rake Up Caste Issue
Lalu’s lawyers, who will soon move Jharkhand High Court challenging the CBI court verdict and also apply for Lalu’s bail in the HC, have counselled party leaders to refrain from commenting on the judge’s verdict.
But once the legal matters are settled, chances are the RJD may rake up the issue of how a backward class leader was jailed (although he was the person who, as CM in 1996, ordered an FIR to be lodged in the fodder scam), while a former Chief Minister from an upper caste (Jagannath Mishra) was let off by the same court in the same case (RC 64A/96, Deogarh treasury).
We will go to the people and rake up the issue as to why the investigative agencies are only after us. Is fodder scam the only scam in the country? Who should be held responsible for Srijan scam in Bihar in which more than Rs 1,200 crore has been illegally withdrawn from Bhagalpur treasury and allegedly swindled by the NGOs?Tejashwi Yadav, Lalu’s son and Former Deputy Chief Minister
Lalu, aware of the outcome of the CBI court, had anointed his youngest son Tejashwi, a relatively soft-spoken and suave leader, as his political heir before heading for Ranchi where he is saddled with three more fodder scam cases. The judgement in at least two of the remaining similar cases is expected by this month-end. And the verdicts may not be different from the one already pronounced.
Aware of this ipso facto, the RJD is gradually bracing itself for days without the physical presence of its party chief, who, as estranged party MP Pappu Yadav said, “Is the biggest mass leader among the present crop of leaders in Bihar.”
(The writer is a Bihar-based journalist. The views mentioned in the article are that of the writer. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)