Supporters of former Bihar chief minister and president of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) Lalu Prasad were left disappointed on Friday when single bench of Jharkhand High Court headed by Justice Apresh Kumar Singh, deferred hearing of Lalu’s bail petition till December 11 in a fodder scam case.
Convicted in four fodder scam cases so far, he has been in judicial custody in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand from December 2017. He got bail in three cases but Dumka treasury case where hearing stands deferred, has caused concern since in this case the CBI court had handed out harshest ever punishment — 14 years of imprisonment along with a heavy fine. The CBI has opposed his bail on the ground that Lalu has not even not spent half of the conviction period in jail.
“Lalu Prasad is our guardian. Not only our party but people of Bihar need him at this moment when the NDA in Bihar unethically grabbed majority,” said RJD spokesperson Mrityunjay Tiwari indicating Lalu matters for Bihar politics.
This fortnight things have changed for the worse for Lalu, both personally and politically. Bihar assembly election was a near winning game for Tejashwi-led RJD-Congress-Left Mahagathbandhan. But his son and anointed political heir Tejashwi lost the election and chief ministerial post to NDA and Nitish Kumar by a thin margin.
Lalu lodged at Kelly’s bungalow in Ranchi in judicial custody had not lost hope to snatch power from NDA and had called two of the alliance partners of NDA, Jitan Ram Manjhi of Hindustani Awam Morcha and Mukesh Sahani of Vikassheel Insaan Party. He even urged Asaduddin Owaisi of All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen to support Tejashwi.
Lalu landed in a fresh controversy and legal trouble after Bihar BJP leader Sushil Modi released an audio of one of the phone calls Lalu had allegedly made to a Bihar BJP MLA Lalan Paswan.
Lalu is heard asking Pirpaiti constituency MLA Paswan to skip from voting of Bihar assembly speaker citing Covid-19 infection. He also assured ministerial berth to Paswan provided the mahagathbandhan grabs speaker's post and NDA government is toppled.
Paswan has lodged an FIR against him at Vigilance Bureau police station in Patna under provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act. A senior BJP leader from Jharkhand Anuranjan Ashok Singh has moved Jharkhand High Court seeking a probe into facilities provided to Lalu Prasad beyond jail manual and raised question that how Lalu Prasad was allowed to use mobile phone.
JMM-Congress-RJD government in Jharkhand led by chief minister Hemant Soren too buckled under pressure and shifted Lalu Prasad from Kelly’s bungalow to paying ward of Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) in Ranchi.
What has left NDA worried is that Lalu convicted and banished doesn’t mean his wings have been clipped and he's pushed-off the stage. Leaders of BJP and JD (U) are worried that Lalu can disturb the NDA government enjoying a skin thin majority — 125 seats — which is only three more the bare majority mark.
“We don’t know how many MLAs he called so far but he must have called so many. He is not ready to accept defeat in Bihar. He wants to see his son as chief minister. Have you heard how he talks of toppling the government? He is a convict but Jharkhand government is treating him like a state guest,” Jharkhand BJP spokesperson Pratul Nath Shahdeo sounded worried.
Another BJP leader from Bihar warned the NDA needs to stay watchful of Lalu. Those who believe that Lalu era is whimpering to demise, it was Lalu who had called the shots throughout Bihar assembly election to draw strategies to defeat the NDA in Bihar.
Tejashwi may have earned laurels as emerging face of Bihar and for successfully leading mahagathbandhan but neither Tejashwi nor his party or to say politics of Bihar has emerged out of the looming shadow of Lalu.
The NDA knows that Lalu is a force to reckon with one who had controlled and monitored the Bihar election even behind the bar.
“The Hemant Soren government extended undue favour to Lalu Prasad to run his political agenda. Under a strategy, he was shifted to sprawling Kelly’s bungalow from RIMS paying ward so that he manages Bihar election. Endless number of people could meet Lalu and he is even allowed to make phone calls. Technically, he was never in jail and he will continue to enjoy hospitality of the Hemant Soren government,” JD(U) spokesperson Ajay Alok said.
This is no secret that right from Tejashwi to other senior leaders of RJD and mahagathbandhan used to visit Lalu in Ranchi to seek his guidance.
There was not a single day left when NDA leaders from Bihar and Jharkhand had not held a press conference or issued statement alleging Kelly’s bungalow has become headquarter of the RJD with thousands flocking outside it to submit biodata for assembly ticket.
RJD insiders confided that RJD and mahagathbandhan were hugely benefitted by Lalu’s political experience who had actually decided final draft of mahagathbandhan and candidate also.
If any alliance partner ever, unduly insisted for particular seats, Lalu Prasad was quick to ask "wahan par aapka pahalwan kaun hai" (who is your wrestler there). This was enough to silence overly demanding alliance partners because he is aware who can win or spoil the game.
So even enjoying alleged hospitality arranged by the JMM-led government in Jharkhand, Lalu had the courage to reject chief minster Hemant Soren demanding his party, the JMM should be accommodated in mahagathbandhan for Bihar election.
The JMM could do nothing except calling the RJD leadership "cunning". Hemant Soren even can’t think of dropping the lone RJD MLA Satyananda Bhokta, who is the minister in his government.
For instance, entire RJD was clueless about who could possibly give tough fight to Chandrika Rai of the JD(U) from Parsa. This six-time Parsa MLA had quit RJD after his daughter Aishwarya Rai's marriage with Lalu's elder son Tej Pratap failed.
Chhote Lal Rai of JD(U) was picked on instruction of Lalu as RJD candidate. Lalu had rightly foreseen Chhote Lal can be the mighty killer. Even the entry of tainted politician Anant Singh in the RJD was done on instruction of Lalu since he wanted to secure even a single seat for the RJD.
“Laluji had decided about number of RJD candidates to be fielded from different communities like Muslim, Yadav and extremely backward class because he knows caste equation. He had chosen his role,” said a senior RJD leader.
He had chosen his role to stay off the stage to an extent that he asked not to use his pictures even on banners and posters of mahagathbandhan. It was a strategy not to give the NDA any opportunity to rake-up and rant the issue of "jungle raj". He had told his party workers to target the JD(U) and Nitish Kumar to diminish his stature in the long run.