Patna, Feb 4 (IANS) RJD boss and Bihar's former Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav may be hugely popular in his state, but he carries the indelible taint of corruption that continues to be his biggest political liability.
As probe agencies step up the heat on him and members of his family in the IRCTC land-for-jobs cases, and challenge his bail in the fodder scam, which earned him the tag of 'chara chor' ever since it was unearthed in 1996, an ailing and aging Lalu Prasad finds himself at a loss on two counts -- his party is no longer a part of the ruling coalition in Bihar, and he's stuck inside a sputtering INDIA bloc of Opposition parties.
A lifelong opponent of the RSS-BJP brand of politics -- he was Bihar's Chief Minister when he got L.K. Advani, who's now in the news for his Bharat Ratna, placed under preventive detention to halt his Ram Rath Yatra in 1990 -- Lalu Prasad, his family and close aides are back in the firing line of probe agencies.
So much so that his son and political heir, and Bihar's just-deposed Deputy Chief Minister, Tejashwi Yadav, had once jokingly remarked that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) could open their local offices in his official residence.
Lalu Prasad, in fact, stands convicted in the fodder scam and faces a jail term of five years. He is now out on bail after spending 42 months behind bars.
So, how did the fodder scam erupt into the public domain and made Lalu Prasad so much synonymous with corruption that his party, despite being the single largest formation in the present Bihar Assembly, and enjoying the unstinted support of the Yadavs and Muslims in the state, has never been voted to power on its own since 2005.
The fodder scam was unearthed by Bindu Bhushan Dubey, a police inspector of special anti-corruption vigilance unit, in 1992.
Dubey had made detailed reports on the financial irregularities in the animal husbandry department of Bihar government in which a number of top officials were involved. At that time, the mafias involved with the animal husbandry department had threatened him with dire consequences and even lobbed a bomb on his house.
Dubey was transferred from the vigilance department as well.
On January 19, 1996, state finance secretary V.S. Dibey ordered the district magistrates of all the 54 districts of united Bihar to find out withdrawal of money in high amounts from the state government treasury.
On January 27, 1996, the district magistrate of Singhbhum district (now in Jharkhand) conducted a raid at the animal husbandry department in Chaibasa town and seized a number of documents, which indicated large-scale of embezzlement by the organised mafia of officials and business people.
As there was fear that the state police, which come under the home department, would not work in a transparent manner, the cases were transferred to CBI, which came under federal jurisdictions, on the direction of the Patna High Court in March 1996.
As the CBI investigation proceeded, it linked the massive financial irregularities with serving Chief Minister of Bihar, Lalu Prasad, on May 10, 1997.
The CBI approached the Governor to prosecute Lalu. On the same day, a businessman, Harish Khandelwal, was found dead on the railway tracks who left a suicide note levelling charges against the CBI for pressuring him to become witness in the case.
The CBI, however, rejected the allegation. The Income Tax department also blamed Lalu for the scam.
On June 17, 1997, then Governor A.R. Kidwai gave permission to the CBI to prosecute Lalu Prasad and others.
The CBI immediately arrested Mahesh Prasad, science and technology secretary in Bihar government, K. Arumugam, labour secretary, Beck Julius, secretary in the animal husbandry department, Phoolchand Singh, former finance secretary, and Ramraj Ram, former director of animal husbandry department, on the same day.
On June 23, 1997, CBI filed a charge sheet against Lalu Prasad and 55 others, including Chandradeo Prasad Verma, former Union minister, and Jagannath Mishra, former Chief Minister of Bihar.
After the name of Lalu Prasad appeared in the charge sheet, his political opponents applied pressure on him to handover power to others.
Lalu Prasad then broke the Janata Dal and formed Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). Later, he handed over the charge of Chief Minister to his wife Rabri Devi on July 28, 1997. Rabri Devi won the vote of confidence with the help of Congress and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM).
Lalu Prasad was first convicted by a special CBI court on October 3, 2013. The court of Pravas Kumar Singh announced the quantum of punishment of five years. Due to the conviction, Lalu Prasad lost the membership of Lok Sabha and was also banned from contesting elections for the next six years due to Supreme Court directives.
He was facing charges of corruption in four cases.
As per the CBI charge sheet, he was involved in Rs 139.5 crore illegal withdrawal from the Doranda treasury in Jharkhand.
In another case, his involvement was established in the Chaibasa treasury from which Rs 39 crore was withdrawn. He was first convicted in 2013 in this case.
Lalu Prasad was also convicted in the illegal withdrawal of Rs 3.13 crore from the Dumka treasury.
He was convicted in the illegal withdrawal of money to the tune of Rs 89 lakh from the Deoghar treasury as well in 2017.
On May 8, 2017, The Supreme Court ordered separate trials against Lalu Prasad in all four cases in an overall Rs 950 crore fodder scam. The top court also asked the agency to complete the trial in nine months.
While the fodder scam was related only to Lalu Prasad, the IRCTC land-for-jobs cases impacted his entire family.
Many people feel the children of Lalu Prasad were not directly involved in the case. They may be the beneficiaries, but not the scamsters.
The IRCTC scam appeared between 2004 and 2009 when Lalu Prasad Yadav was Railway Minister in the UPA government.
During his tenure, two hotels were given on lease without following the norms. One of the hotels was allotted to Sarla Gupta, wife of Prem Gupta, a close friend of Lalu Prasad. He was also a Rajya Sabha MP at that time.
Besides Lalu Prasad and Tejashwi Yadav, Prem Gupta, Sarla Gupta, railway officials Rakesh Saksena and P.K. Goyal were also accused in this case.
The IRCTC land-for-jobs case is basically a scam where Lalu Prasad had allegedly misused his post and given jobs to people in fourth grade after registering their lands in the name of his family members. Many of them 'gifted' the lands to the Lalu family.
Sanjay Rai, a resident of Patna, had sold his 3,375 sq ft land to Rabri Devi for Rs 3.75 lakh. Rai and two other members of the family got jobs in Indian Railways.
Hajari Rai had sold his 9,527 sq ft land to A.K. Infosystem Pvt Ltd, and Rabri Devi became the owner of the company in 2014. For this, Hajari’s two nephews -- Dilchand Kumar and Premchand Kumar -- got jobs in the railways.
Lal Babu Rai sold his 1,360 gudge land to Rabri Devi for Rs 13 lakh. His son Lalchand Kumar got a job in railways.
Vishindev Rai sold his 3,375 sq ft land to Lalan Chaudhary who later gifted the same land to Hema Yadav, the daughter of Lalu Prasad. Pintu Kumar, Lalan Chaudhary's son, got the job in railways.
Impact on Family, Party
The impact of these two scams was felt immensely by the family members as well as his party. The fodder scam and the IRCTC cases have given a huge issue to the opposition parties to target him during elections.
These are scams which are raised in every election by the opposition parties to create a perception that Lalu Prasad is a convicted person and corruption will take place where he stays.
This is one of the reasons why the RJD, after 2005, has not come to power on its own strength in Bihar. The party of Lalu Prasad came to power only once in this period -- in 2015, when Lalu Prasad made an alliance with Nitish Kumar and formed the Mahagathbandhan.
Lalu Prasad has a sizable vote bank from his own caste Yadav while Muslims also favour him in the elections. People from backward and extremely backward castes also vote for RJD, but those are not good enough to win elections on its own or through old alliance partners like the Congress and the Left parties.
The RJD leaders always claimed that leaders like Tejashwi Yadav and Tej Pratap Yadav are not carrying the baggage of corruption, but the background of Lalu Prasad hurt them.
Tejashwi Yadav, in the absence of his father, campaigned in the 2020 Assembly elections and almost reached the victory line.
These two scams were registered during the tenure of the Congress government and even Lalu Prasad was convicted in 2013 in the Chaibasa treasury case during the second tenure of the Manmohan Singh government.
Still, Lalu Prasad has not left the Congress as he needs one national party for the politics of the centre.
Lalu Prasad has also fought against the BJP and RSS his entire life and has not changed the ideology to go with the saffron colours. This is another reason why the alliance between the RJD and the Congress is strong here