Thanks to a ruling of the Supreme Court of India in May (2017) to the effect that the former Chief Minister of Bihar Lalu Yadav had to face separate trials in each of the fodder scam case involving him and, if found guilty, he could face punishments separately.
In 1996, of the 64 cases arising from what was considered as a 950 crore rupees mega-scam, Lalu was named accused in as many as six cases. An arduous legal saga that followed astonishingly revealed that politicians belonging to all parties and the bureaucrats of all ranks worked in collusion with scammers to plunder the public money. At the same time, however, there were a few committed, duty-bound and public-spirited individuals both in public life and in bureaucracy who responded to the call of duty. Eventually, justice seemed to be prevailing.
On December 17, 2012, a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court framed charges against Lalu and others over fraudulent withdrawal of 3.97 crore rupees from Dumka treasury. A full-fledged trial and a final conviction appeared to be still awaited in that case.
However, on September 30, 2013, a special CBI court in Ranchi convicted Lalu and 44 others (including former chief minister, Jagannath Mishra and four IAS officers) in a case involving fraudulent withdrawal of 37.70 crore rupees from Chaibasa treasury between April 1, 1994 and January 31, 1995.
This year, on 23rd December, Lalu was convicted in yet another case related to fraudulent withdrawal of 89.27 lakh rupees from the Deoghar treasury around the same time he was the Chief Minister of undivided Bihar.
In addition to Dumka, therefore, there were still pending cases of financial fraud such as in the treasuries of Doranda, Ranchi (139.39 crore) and Patna where Lalu was one of the central figures accused. After the exhaustive legal process, he might be exonerated or could get separate bouts of jail sentences. Or, these court cases could outlast Lalu’s life altogether.
Lalu Yadav, in the meantime, played the victim at the hands of the 'upper caste conspiracies' against him in the guise of the judiciary, the CBI or the BJP. He has been telling his gullible and apparently loyal caste followers that a culprit like him couldn’t be punished twice for the same offence. His sly analogy: In order to kill a hen or a goat for meat, you don’t apply knife at multiple spots.
The sons and the courtiers of Lalu have been going around projecting him as the champion of the suppressed backward castes. Shivanand Tiwari, one of the original complainants in the fodder scam against Lalu, was now on his side - typical character of a politician.
The Congress party in the state that should have presented a different image of itself under the renewed national leadership of Rahul Gandhi accused the CBI of working at the instruction of the federal BJP government.
By implying that the CBI court or the judicial system were in the hands of the upper castes or under the influence of the BJP, Lalu’s party, his sympathizers or the Congress were not only undermining the impartiality of the judiciary but were also being casteists.
In the West, it would certainly be characterized as racism. To make a distant reference, Donald Trump once said during his presidential campaign about a particular federal judge that he shouldn’t be hearing a case against him because the judge’s parents were Mexican.
In fact, it was a serious shortcoming in the popular democracy - its operation among the general public -- that a court-convicted felon out of jail on bail was given so much freedom and liberty to move around propagating his disinformation. In Patna itself, since 2013, there were many bandhs, demonstrations and civic disruptions led by Lalu. His bail could have been cancelled and the man put behind the bars. Lalu’s right to run for a public office was taken away, his citizenship rights should also have been suspended.
People around Lalu who benefited from him or are expecting to gain by staying in his camp propagate that Lalu was just not an individual or a leader; he is an idea, or ideology - an icon.
They may be right. Lalu is and will be projected as a rallying point around which the social forces (castes) were gathered with the sole purpose of creating a division between the upper and the lower castes. That will give the Yadavs, the caste of Lalu, an illusion of being a dominant ruling caste. That will also perhaps add pride to the false ego of other lower castes that they were successful in keeping the upper castes away from the power structure, even though that meant accepting family dynasty in the parties and malfeasance in public conduct.
The need of the hour is to educate and discipline the younger generation and make them committed to an alternative vision where truth, morality, ethics, honesty, transparency and above all sacrifice are the most important elements. A strong characterful citizenry will make a strong state of Bihar and a strong nation.
The danger is that in the absence education, moral or ethical training, fairness, or the egalitarian “equality before law” outlook, the Lalus of the world will continue to liken themselves to Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Bhimrao Ambedkar. The credulous public will believe.
It is also possible that when a colossus character like Lalu shatters, other political parties or players don’t go after the restoration of such ideal visions, the bedrock of the future. On the contrary, they would simply try to grab chunks of people and get them to switch their loyalty.
Lalu is behind the bars once again, but will not fade away from politics any time soon. The emphasis must be on fighting against the values he represents. Breaking or winning over his caste following should be the next -- to make a Lalu-Mukta Bihar.
Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.
Dr. Prasad administers a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.