The Supreme Court today revived four fodder scam cases against former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, saying he would have to face trial in all these cases. The apex court also reinstated the criminal conspiracy charge against Lalu in one of the fodder scam cases. The SC took this decision on an appeal by the CBI, which had challenged a 2014 Jharkhand High Court order that dropped the conspiracy charge against Lalu in the Chaibasa fodder scam case, which is about embezzlement of around Rs 96 lakh public money from the Chaibasa treasury.
Lalu was one of the 45 convicts declared guilty in 2013 in the Chaibasa fodder scam case. The court had awarded 5-year jail to Lalu. After spending some time in jail, Lalu had got bail from the top court. However, the conviction barred him from contesting elections and resulted in his disqualification from the Parliament.
The Chaibasa fraud was one of the many such crimes amounting to the embezzlement of around Rs 1000 crore of Bihar government’s money on fake bills showing purchase of food and medicine for cattle during Lalu’s tenure as Bihar CM (1990-97). Referring to Lalu’s previous conviction, the High Court had then quashed four pending cases against Lalu, saying he could not be tried for the same offense twice.
The apex court, however, on Monday said Lalu would face separate trials in each case against him and the trial would be completed within 9 months. It also observed that the High court should have been “consistent in its findings and not have given different views for different sets of accused in a case”, according to PTI.
For the former Bihar CM and RJD Chief, who is in news these days because of leaked tapes showing him taking orders from jailed gangster Mohd Sahabuddin, the SC decision couldn’t have come at a worse time. Until recently, Lalu was at the forefront of opposition’s attempt to forge a Bihar-like grand alliance in the country for the upcoming Presidential election and the 2019 General Elections to challenge PM Narendra Modi.
However, two developments in the last two days appear to have shaken Lalu’s ambition to the core. The RJD chief has not made any statement against the leaked tapes by a news channel and he has reportedly taken ill.
Knowing he couldn’t contest elections, Lalu invested himself in building the political career of his two sons, who are still in their 20s but cabinet ministers in Bihar. Lalu has had a controversial political career until now. Infamous for misruling Bihar between 1990-97 and later making wife Rabri Devi Bihar CM, Lalu is often accused of working more for his family than people of the state.
Ahead of 2015 Bihar Assembly elections, Lalu joined hands with decades-old rival Nitish Kumar and the Congress to defeat BJP. However, the Grand Alliance experiment has been so far rocked by apparent fissures between Kumar and Lalu. The alliance faced its biggest challenge when Shahabuddin openly challenged Nitish Kumar, calling him a “circumstantial CM”, after his release from jail a few months ago. What troubled the alliance more was the fact that Lalu was apparently seen backing the gangster.
Following the release of Lalu-Shahabuddin tapes, questions on the alliance’s sustainability have come up. How can Nitish continue to be in alliance with a leader who takes orders from a jailed gangster having links with Pakistan’s ISI? With the revival of fodder scam cases, Nitish would be forced to some more soul searching. Can he afford to continue in an alliance with a leader convicted for gobbling up public money in the name of buying food and medicine for cattle?
The trial in the four cases is to be completed in 9 months. If convicted in any of them, Lalu’s political life may face an untimely end. But, has it already started?