Power play: Why are Lalu Prasad Yadav and his sons suddenly under intense scrutiny?

Written by Anita Katyal | Published on: May 9, 2017

Is the aim to compel Nitish Kumar to break off the JD(U)-RJD alliance and get back with the BJP?

Lalu
 
Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad Yadav and his sons Tejashwi Yadav and Tej Pratap Yadav are in trouble.

They have been embroiled in a series of controversies over the past month, culminating in the Supreme Court ruling on Monday that Yadav will face conspiracy charges in the fodder scam case. The case relates to the siphoning off of around Rs 1,000 crore by Bihar’s animal husbandry department during Yadav’s tenure as chief minister from 1990 to 1997.

Setting aside the Jharkhand High Court’s decision in 2014 to drop the conspiracy charges against him, the apex court directed that the trial be completed within nine months.

On Saturday, the newly-launched news channel Republic TV aired a taped telephonic conversation between Yadav and criminal-politician Mohammad Shahbuddin, in which the latter is purportedly heard giving directions to Yadav.

Tejashwi Yadav and Tej Pratap Yadav, who are both ministers in the Nitish Kumar-led government in Bihar, meanwhile, stand accused of benefitting from “dubious” land deals struck when their father was the Union railway minister between 2004 and 2009. They were also in the eye of a storm for not declaring that they owned a petrol pump in Patna.

In addition, the state government has ordered an enquiry into allegations that the Patna Zoo had not followed the proper bidding process for the purchase of soil from a plot of land owned by Yadav and his sons.

There may be merit in the allegations, but there appears to be a pattern to how they have surfaced at this point. It was known that Yadav’s case would come up before the Supreme Court any day. It is no coincidence, therefore, that the revelations about him and his sons have dominated public discourse in the run-up to the hearing. The primary objective of this exercise? To discredit Yadav and ensure that the electorate does not forget about his role in the fodder scam. More importantly, it is an attempt to build pressure on Kumar to reconsider his partnership with Yadav.

Predictably, the Bharatiya Janata Party lost no time in mounting an offensive. While Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has been fielded to take on Yadav in Delhi, senior party leader Sushil Modi has led the attack in Bihar, addressing a series of press conferences in the past few weeks to “expose” Yadav and his sons.


Weak link

“The fact is that the BJP is doing everything possible to tarnish Laluji’s reputation so that Nitish Kumar is forced to say enough is enough and pull out of the coalition,” argued a senior leader of Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) party.

He argued that since the BJP cannot “unearth” any controversy against Kumar, it has zeroed in on Yadav to highlight how the chief minister is turning a blind eye to corruption in his regime to save his government. “The case against Laluji is well known...there is no doubt that he is the weak link as far as the BJP is concerned,” the leader added.

Other JD(U) leaders maintained that the BJP was desperate to return to power in Bihar and, accordingly, it was trying to create a rift between the coalition partners so that Kumar has no option but to take the BJP’s support to run his government.

Kumar’s JD(U) has 71 seats in the 243-member Bihar Assembly while his partner Yadav’s RJD has 80. The BJP has 53 seats, enough to keep the government afloat if Yadav walks, or is ditched.

Sushil Modi said as much on Monday. “If Nitish decides to dump Lalu, we are willing to support him,” he said shortly after the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Although Kumar has publicly declared that he has no intention of renewing his partnership with the BJP, with which he ran the Bihar government from 2005 to 2013, there is constant chatter about his growing proximity to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Fuelling such speculation are his party officials reminiscing how the BJP allowed him free rein of the government but now he has to tread carefully because the RJD is the senior ally.

JD(U) spokesperson KC Tyagi dismissed the speculation, however, reiterating that Kumar would not join hands with the BJP. In fact, Tyagi added, the chief minister is trying to persuade other opposition parties to form a broad-based anti-BJP secular front before the 2019 Lok Sabha election. And it was Kumar who first proposed that the opposition field a common candidate in the forthcoming presidential election.

Still, Kumar could be forced to reconsider his stand if corruption allegations against Yadav’s sons are proved. “As long as Laluji is in the firing line, we are okay. After all, this is an old case that has been in the public domain for years now,” explained a senior JD(U) leader. “But we will be in trouble if his sons get involved in graft cases.”

This article was first published on Scroll.in