How his conviction will change the political calculus in Bihar and at the Centre
Although Lalu Prasad, the RJD chief and former chief minister of Bihar, was finally convicted by a special CBI court in the multi-crore fodder scam, this does not entail the end of his legal journey, as he will likely appeal his conviction. In the short run, he may get a stay from the higher courts and may even be acquitted in the long run. Nonetheless, the verdict casts a deep shadow over his political career. His conviction has thrown up many questions, many of which could have serious consequences for both state and national politics. But before we consider these questions, it is necessary to examine why they arise, and why they need to be addressed at all.
Lalu Prasad is one of the few politicians of the post-Emergency era to have made an indelible mark in Indian politics. For many, his charismatic persona, brand of politics, style of political communication, rustic yet sharp political jokes and, above all, ability to sail through rough political weather, make him a politician who stands apart. But this does not adequately describe the importance of being Lalu Prasad. One may blame him for allegedly turning Bihar into a “dystopian state”, but it is also difficult to deny his contribution to the social justice movement and towards the dismantling of old power structures. It is also impossible to ignore his role in raising the political consciousness of hitherto marginalised sections and making them political equals in Bihar. Of course, his political clout has diminished and grip over the masses significantly weakened over time, but unlike other regional political stalwarts, he has continued to be a force in both state and national politics.
For now, the broader questions raised by his conviction are as follows. How is his conviction going to affect the survival of his party? If this verdict leads to greater marginalisation for the RJD in Bihar, what sort of politics will emerge in its absence? Last but not least, what will his exit from politics mean for national politics?