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BJP is determined to marginalise Lalu Yadav
Game of one-upmanship is on in Bihar
By Arun Srivastava
The month long campaign launched against the RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav to marginalise him in Bihar as well as in national politics and frustrate his attempt to bring together the democratic and secular forces on a single platform to oppose the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, took a weird turn with the CBI putting in operation its plan to discredit him ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The CBI, which had been sitting pretty tight on the conspiracy charges against him for nearly a decade, suddenly moved the Supreme Court, requesting it to look into the charges of conspiracy against him. Little doubt, Lalu has been found to be involved in hatching conspiracy to defraud the state exchequer, but during the last ten years, the CBI's top bosses did not move the court against the order of the Jharkhand High Court dropping that charge. Though the CBI was in possession of evidence, its bosses were reluctant to place them before the court.

The Jharkhand High Court bench in the case of Lalu Yadav, Justices Jagganath Mishra and Sajal Chakraborty, had held that since he had already been convicted in one of the fodder scam cases, they need not proceed against him in the remaining similar cases. But in the case of one RK Rana in those very cases, the same judges had declined to interfere with the trials in different cases.

The Supreme Court bench abhorred this. Describing the High Court verdict as "palpably illegal, faulty and contrary to the basic principles of law", the top court said the judge has ignored large number of binding decisions of this Court while giving "impermissible benefit to the accused persons and delayed the case for several years". Total 64 cases had been registered relating to fodder scam. A total of 52 cases involved withdrawal of more than Rs 1,200 crores from government treasuries falling within Jharkhand state.

Giving no relief to Lalu, the Supreme Court ordered the separate trial of all the four cases registered against him. The apex court also ordered the trial court to complete the trial within nine months. Lalu has been already convicted in one of the fodder scam cases and the legal experts are sure that he would find going really tough this time. The cases are prepared with such a dexterity by the initial CBI team led by its then joint director Upen Biswas that it would be a tough proposition for Lalu to defend in the conspiracy charges. If Lalu is convicted further in any of the cases, it may lead to his permanent exile from the politics.

The move against Lalu picked momentum only after he strained his relations with the Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar. The impression gained amongst the common people that someone close to Nitish was feeding all the information to the state BJP leaders. Charges of Lalu possessing benami lands were leveled. But these were not so serious to keep him engaged in legal wrangling. The BJP also knew that a direct attack on the Grand Alliance government would not be of much help. They have to deepen the chasm between Nitish and Lalu. Incidentally, this strategy appears to be yielding results.

While this strategy of theirs would cut Lalu to size, this will also mar the possibility of Nitish merging as the consensus candidate of the opposition. Since Nitish is eyeing to emerge as the consensus candidate of the anti-BJP block in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and challenge Narendra Modi the BJP has become too much cautious of his moves.

In fact, central BJP leaders indicated the party's current political campaign against Lalu over corruption was aimed to drive a wedge between Nitish and the RJD boss and "destabilise and discredit" the chief minister in a bid to seek political mileage ahead of the 2019 polls. Quite interestingly, the state BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi said that his party would think of extending support to the Nitish government if the JDU chief snapped ties with Lalu Prasad following the Supreme Court verdict. The statement was interpreted as the BJP being keen to have Nitish back in the NDA fold.

The RJD scoffs at this, saying it's a theory propagated by the BJP to create fissures in the Grand Alliance. "Just think who would have formed the government in Bihar had Lalu not been present in the 2015 assembly polls. The problem for the BJP is not corruption. The problem is Lalu. The BJP knows that it is Lalu and not Nitish who can stop them in Bihar."

He still enjoys huge popular support for championing backward castes and in the last Bihar election in 2015, his party won more seats than any other, but agreed to honour an earlier agreement with Mr Kumar to serve as No 2 in the alliance. In recent weeks, his sons, Tejashwi and Tej Pratap, have been accused by the BJP of concealing vast real estate assets, which were illicitly acquired, according to the opposition.

The scam dates back to mid-1990s and involved embezzlement of around Rs 1,000 crore from the Bihar government treasury during Lalu's tenure as Bihar CM between 1990and 1997. The amount was withdrawn allegedly using fake bills showing the money was used for buying medicines and fodder for cattle. The high court had dropped the conspiracy charge against Lalu and others in 2014 in one of the fodder scam cases.

Lalu was already sentenced to five-year rigorous imprisonment and barred from contesting elections for 11 years. Now he will stand separate trial for each of the four fodder scam cases. Conviction in any of these cases for more than two years will further add to his exile of 11 years from contesting elections, which ends in 2024. This essentially means that chances of the 68-year-old RJD leader contesting elections will further diminish.

Despite being convicted, Lalu is still the darling of the backwards and they look at the legal action against him as an act of vengeance by the upper caste people and politicians. The latest order of the Supreme Court has in fact strengthened his grip on his support base. The Yadavs are gearing to avenge this action of the BJP. Some of the ministers in Nitish government have turned suspect in their eyes. They hold the view that leaders fed the information to the BJP.

The RJD leaders feel that Lalu Yadav has enough time at his hand to work out the strategy for struggle against the BJP. Speculations were expressed that some RJD leaders may switch over to Nitish side after Lalu is jailed. But the chances are remote. These leaders cite the phase when Lalu was in jail. Rabri Devi could manage to hold the party and it leaders. No doubt hostility between the JD (U) and RJD is an open secret and has manifested in different forms in the last 18 months of the alliance the leaders feel that Nitish would not succeed in manipulating the situation in his favour. May be a weakened Lalu suits Nitish.

Ever since the Grand Alliance (GA) in Bihar rode to power in November 2015, the RJD has rightly steadfastly maintained that it was actually Lalu's vote base which helped Nitish to defeat Narendra Modi. In the backdrop of current political development, one thing can certainly be said that for the BJP the going will not be in 2019 elections. The memories of the humiliation of their leader will be haunting Lalu's supporters and they will certainly not allow the ember of avenge to die down.

—(IPA Service)

News Updated at : Monday, May 15, 2017
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