Lalu on the back foot: It's easy to guess who will benefit
The Rs 1,000 crore fodder scam of the 1990s has come back to haunt Lalu Prasad, the former chief minister of Bihar. On 8 May, the Supreme Court paved the way for separate trials against him for multiple offences related to the scam.
These will be in addition to the one in which the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supremo was convicted in 2013 and handed a five-year jail term. He is out on bail now.
The top court set aside an earlier judgment of the Jharkhand High Court, barring separate trials against Yadav. The order by the Bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy effectively means that Prasad can now be tried for charges of criminal conspiracy.
The trial court has also been ordered to expedite the trial in the cases and conclude it within nine months.
The order has indeed come as a setback for the man once known as the undisputed leader of the 'backward' classes. Its timing has made it a double whammy of sorts for him, coming as it does straight after a weekend that saw the launch of a new TV channel with its opening story claiming to be a massive expose on him.
The channel, called Republic, continues to track Prasad with captions like “Lalu in the dock” and “Lalu cornered this week”.
Third blow on Lalu in quick succession
The channel's “big expose” involved airing excerpts from a phone conversation between Prasad and Mohammad Shahabuddin, a convicted muscleman and former RJD MP.
The call was allegedly made when Shahabuddin was jailed in a prison in Siwan and the conversation referred to the local superintendent of police (SP). The don can be heard complaining to Prasad against the SP and the latter's inability to check communal violence in the area.
The RJD has brushed aside the allegations, with many party leaders questioning the veracity of the tapes. Prasad himself is yet to give out a public statement on the issue and so is his ally in the Bihar government, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
Interestingly, Prasad has been re-tweeting several others, most of which are trying to establish a deep connect between the Republic and BJP. Indeed, the main investor behind the channel is a Rajya Sabha MP and the vice-chairperson of NDA in Kerala, Rajeev Chandrashekhar.
BJP Ministers, MPs, MLAs, Spokespersons can’t stop gushing about the launch of Arnab Goswami’s Republic TVhttps://t.co/T66kMJtoDp— Truth Of Gujarat (@TruthOfGujarat) May 6, 2017
The Republic's story came about a month after senior BJP leader in Bihar Sushil Modi alleged corruption against Prasad and his family members for setting up fake firms, acquiring benami property and also using state machinery to benefit their businesses.
Modi carried out a sustained campaign for about 10 days, releasing several documents every day in a bid to substantiate his allegations. However, neither the state government nor the Centre has taken any action so far.
A setback for anti-BJP camp too?
The bigger significance of the multiple setbacks to Prasad in recent weeks must also be looked at from the perspective of an anti-BJP coalition that many in the Parliamentary Opposition are trying to stitch.
Prasad is a known BJP-baiter and has been at the forefront of these attempts. He successfully tied up with Kumar's JD(U) and Congress in 2015 to keep BJP out of power in Bihar. It was his political cunning that created the perception that BJP was anti-reservation, based on RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's remarks.
He tried to get other leaders of the former Janata Dal to get into a similar arrangement with Congress ahead of the UP polls this year too, but that didn't work out.
However, he has not given up and is actively engaging with other parties to convince them to bury their mutual differences in the interest of a national alliance against the BJP. The first test of this opposition unity will come soon in the form of the Presidential elections, which are to be completed before 26 July.
Parleys between leaders of this camp are going on at a hectic pace and new signals are emerging every few days. The assembly of a gamut of opposition leaders at Madhu Limaye's birth anniversary was one such platform. DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi's widely publicised birthday celebrations promises to be another.
The back-to-back assaults on the RJD and Prasad, as well as on AAP and Arvind Kejriwal, threaten to cause a dent in these efforts. The BJP will be happy at this situation and it is not making any attempt to hide its glee.
Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has been eagerly organising press conferences after every Republic 'expose', lauding the channel and condemning its target.
The SC verdict has come in the middle of this strange convergence. Who will it eventually benefit can easily be guessed.