Another fodder jolt: on Lalu Prasad's conviction

Twenty years on, the Bihar fodder scam is still hounding Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad. In 1997, he had to resign as Chief Minister after being charged with involvement in a conspiracy to fraudulently withdraw money from the treasury to pay non-existent suppliers of livestock feed. In 2013, he was sentenced to a five-year prison term in a case relating to the withdrawal of ₹37 crore from the Chaibasa district treasury. He remains disqualified from electoral contest as a result of that conviction, although he was granted bail by the Supreme Court in December 2013. His conviction on Saturday by a Central Bureau of Investigation court relates to withdrawals worth ₹84.50 lakh between 1994 and 1996 from the Deogarh treasury. As it has been established even in earlier trials that a large-scale scam had taken place in the name of purchasing fodder for cattle, any more convictions in one or more of the many cases spread across Bihar and Jharkhand will come as no surprise. Mr. Prasad had failed to convince the Supreme Court earlier this year that repeatedly trying him in respect of the treasury withdrawals in different districts violated his constitutional protection against double jeopardy. The court has ruled that different transactions ought to be established independently, even if the acts of embezzlement arose out of an overarching conspiracy. As Mr. Prasad awaits his sentence, which will be known on January 3, he is already in jail, along with 15 others. Instead of one, he now has two convictions against his name. He has to wait until a higher court exonerates him in both before he can regain eligibility to contest elections.


Mr. Prasad’s political fortunes have been fluctuating. He could take credit for the victory of the grand alliance of the RJD, the Janata Dal (United) and the Congress in the November 2015 Assembly election in Bihar, but that unity was short-lived. It was an allegation that went back to Mr. Prasad’s days as Railway Minister that ruptured the ties between his party and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of the JD(U). Mr. Prasad and his family members were named in a First Information Report filed by the CBI that claimed that his wife Rabri Devi and son Tejaswi Yadav received a prime piece of property in Patna as a quid pro quo for a contract to develop and run two railway hotels. With Tejaswi Yadav refusing to resign as Deputy Chief Minister, Mr. Kumar quickly switched over to the BJP-led camp, to govern without the RJD’s support. This meant that Mr. Prasad’s influence as the leader of an 80-member legislature party was not as game-changing as it had appeared to be when the Mahagathbandhan was formed as an anti-Bharatiya Janata Party front in 2014. It may be too early to write off Mr. Prasad, who is perceived by some sections as a bulwark against communalism, but as the ghosts of the murky past return, his immediate political future looks bleaker. This jolt may not send him to political oblivion yet, but it may be one from which he will not recover easily.

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Printable version | Jul 1, 2022 1:26:49 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/another-fodder-jolt-on-lalu-prasads-conviction/article59780897.ece