Lalu's sons caught in land storm. Will Nitish order a fair probe?
Amid calls for a national-level consolidation of non-BJP parties, the Grand Alliance government in Bihar has suddenly been hit by a storm.
The BJP's Bihar unit has leveled several allegations of corruption against Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav, Health Minister Tej Pratap Yadav and their family members, including their parents Lalu Prasad Yadav and Rabri Devi. The allegations include hiding assets from the Election Commission, and getting the state government to award contracts to companies run by them.
On 4 April, Leader of the Opposition in the Bihar Legislative Council, Sushil Kumar Modi, alleged that the Patna zoo had purchased soil from a plot of land belonging to a company in which Yadav family members are shareholders. Conflict of interest was alleged behind the award of the Rs 90 lakh contract, because the zoo is under Tej Pratap's charge.
Modi also alleged subsequently that the brothers had not disclosed in their election affidavits that they owned these plots and were directors in the company at the centre of the controversy. A mall is coming up on the plot, and it is said to be worth Rs 750 crore.
Modi further elaborated on 7 April that the Yadav family's control over the plot dates back to Lalu's days as Union Railways Minister. He, Modi alleged, had secured the plots from a company in a quid pro quo deal, after allotting two hotels owned by the railways to the said company. These dealings had also come out in 2008, but were subsequently lost under the layers of change that the state's politics went through subsequently.
लालू यादव व उनके मंत्री पुत्र के मिट्टी घोटाले से सम्बंधित मेरे प्रेस वार्ता के मुख्य बिन्दु... pic.twitter.com/GtrJAOZgkE— Sushil Kumar Modi (@SushilModi) April 7, 2017
In 2008, former JD(U) MP Rajiv Ranjan Singh had alleged that the brother of the owner of Patna's Chanakya hotel, Harsh Kochar, had registered two acres of land near Danapur canal to Delight in February 2005 for Rs 90 lakh. Soon after that deal, the railways gave two hotels in Puri and Ranchi on a 15-year lease to Kochar's company.
Modi has also thanked Singh for being the first one to highlight this years ago.
What facts say
Modi's allegations feature the name of a company called Delight Marketing Pvt Ltd, in whose name the plots were registered in 2005. In 2014, Tej Pratap, Tejashwi and their sisters Chanda and Ragini were made its directors. The company changed its name to Lara Projects Pvt Ltd in 2016, then to Lara Projects LLP, and eventually came to be fully controlled by the Yadav family in February 2017.
'Lara' is believed to stand for Lalu and Rabri. A company called Lara Projects Pvt Ltd is indeed listed with the Registrar of Companies, and its directors are Ragini Lalu, Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, Tej Pratap and Chanda Yadav.
Tejashwi's name indeed comes up as Additional Director with another company called Delight Marketing Co Pvt Ltd.
Tej Pratap's name, too, comes up as Director with Delight.
Delight's details are missing, but it has been alleged that it was initially owned by RJD MP Prem Chand Gupta.
Tejashwi's election affidavit does mention ownership of two plots of non-agricultural land in the area where this mall is coming up, but the plots are much smaller in size than the ones being talked about.
There is no mention of any directorship; only ownership of shares worth Rs 5,38,100 in an unnamed company is mentioned.
Tej Pratap has declared ownership of shares worth Rs 25,10,000 in an unnamed company.
The Yadav family has denied all allegations vehemently, even as Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has ordered a government probe into the controversy.
विभाग इसके मनगढ़ंत आरोपो का जवाब देने में सक्षम है।अनगर्ल एवं तथ्यहीन आरोप लगाना इनकी आदत है।अब इनकी झूठ व गुमराह करने की राजनीति नही चलेगी— Tej Pratap Yadav (@TejYadav14) April 4, 2017
अब वो तथाकथित राष्ट्रीय चैनल सच्ची घटना को नहीं दिखायेगा क्योंकि यह उसके मनमाफ़िक खुराक नहीं है। कुंठा निकालने की भी कोई हद होती होगी https://t.co/Kzi3CMI9fM— Tejashwi Yadav (@yadavtejashwi) April 5, 2017
Tej Pratap has also threatened to file a defamation suit against Modi.
सुशील मोदी के विरुद्ध मानहानि का केस करूँगा। मेरी एवं परिवार की छवि धूमिल करने के लिए यह मनगढ़ंत आरोप एवं षढ़यंत्र रचा है।— Tej Pratap Yadav (@TejYadav14) April 4, 2017
The issue has indeed enabled the BJP in Bihar to corner Nitish and force him to take action against the Yadav family, especially against the brothers. Modi has asked for an all-party probe into the allegations, fearing a government probe might try to dilute the case.
If Nitish does take strict action based on these allegations, his government may come under threat, as RJD is the senior partner in the coalition.
However, that is not likely to happen if the BJP doesn't step up its offensive and go the whole hog. So far, no central-level leader of the party has spoken on the allegations and supported Modi's call for action. Once that happens, Nitish's next move will be interesting to watch.