Image Courtesy: PTI
The Supreme Court has quashed Jharkhand High Court order dropping criminal conspiracy charges against former chief minister and RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav in four fodder scam cases. This has been lapped up by a section of media as a big blow to Lalu’s political career, some suggesting even an end to his political journey.
After a newly-launched channel released tapes of conversation between Lalu and convicted criminal Shahabuddin, this has been presented as a second successive blow to Lalu. There is a section of people telling Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to break alliance with Lalu in Bihar. Some TV analysts even suggested the imposition of Article 356.
This is a classic case of ‘much ado about nothing’. Lalu has already been convicted in a fodder scam case in October 2013 and has been sentenced to 5 years in prison by Supreme Court. He had to resign as an MP and the apex court had ruled that the RJD supremo cannot contest elections till 2024 (5 years jail plus six years of the ban after release, so barred for 11 years from contesting any form of elections).
His electoral career was already over before this judgment. He was 65 when convicted, and will be 76 by the time he is eligible again. The recent judgment doesn’t bar him from being the president of any political party or convener of any alliance. He can hold rallies, meetings and remain a public figure. The court has not quashed his bail.
Nitish formed an alliance with Lalu in 2014 after his conviction in 2013 due to political compulsions. The clean image of Nitish came under the cloud when the JD(U) chief had to forge an alliance with not so ‘clean’ Lalu due to arithmetic benefits (during Bihar elections) with the objective of taking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Nitish knows Modi is no Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Modi-Shah regularly arms twist allies. Forming an alliance with the BJP carried the risk that OBC votes could have tilted towards to BJP. Nitish is trying to become a joint candidate for the prime ministerial post of a united opposition. His prime ministerial ambitions will be thwarted if he takes any such action now. Additionally, Lalu fully supports Nitish’s ambitions. He knows that the more Nitish concentrates on India-level politics, more control he gets back home in Bihar.
Until 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Nitish on his part will not do anything that rocks the JD(U)-RJD alliance boat in Bihar. He knows fully well that sons of Lalu is not as charismatic as their father. Instead of joining BJP, he feels, he can poach RJD MLAs if required and when the situation demands.
The Bihar government, for its part, is doing well by implementing a few agendas — Liquor prohibition has already won hearts of women folk in the state. This has brought down the rate of crime in Bihar. The state continues to do well in GDP growth figures.
Shahabuddin-type ‘exposé’ looks good on TV, but these things happen on a daily basis in UP-Bihar politics. This is an accepted norm. At least 35 percent of newly-elected MLAs in Uttar Pradesh Assembly have serious criminal cases against them.
So what’s in store for Lalu now?
In a worse scenario, he gets convicted again in the four cases and receives another jail term. This only lengthens his exile from electoral politics to beyond 2024. Lalu, the wily fox, who appears as a comedian-politician, is very smart. He has already ensured his two sons join politics. His political heir Tejaswini Yadav is the deputy chief minister. He is learning the art of politics from two socialists Nitish and Lalu. In the next decade or so, by the time Lalu retires, Tejas will be an established politician.
There is no morality left in politics. Worse is people of India don’t consider corruption a big issue. If they considered it a big issue, how come leaders like Lalu, Jayalalithaa, Virbhadra, Hooda, Kumaraswamy, Madhu Koda, occupy important chairs like that of the chief minister. It almost seems like convictions raise their stature. They play it up as punishment for fighting for the poor and the oppressed. Leaders like Lalu continue to thrive.
Nitish and Lalu are smart politicians. They know they need each other. Politics of give and take dominates Bihar and will continue to do so. Meanwhile, Lalu will play this judgment up as the ploy by communal forces to silence him. He is not worried about his national image in media, especially English print, and TV. His rustic ways and close connect with his vote base will ensure it remains with him in Bihar, no matter what happens.
This article was originally posted in FirstPost.