Lessons from Lalu’s case

Bihar failed to reap benefits of the post-liberalisation era as the former CM of the state neglected its governance.

The imprisonment of RJD president Lalu Prasad in the infamous fodder scam case has brought to close a long-standing debate over the efficacy of the CBI investigations against politicians facing corruption cases.


For many years, the Rs 950-crore scam executed through the animal husbandry department in Bihar remained the subject of intense speculations whether its longdrawn trials involving high profile politicians such as Lalu would ever conclude. But, at the end of the day, the much-awaited special CBI court verdict came, giving no respite to Lalu and other accused in the case which had first come to light when the Bihar strongman’s political career was at its peak.

Sentenced to five years’ rigorous imprisonment, Lalu faces the prospect of losing his right to contest elections for the next 11 years if he fails to get the ruling stayed by higher courts. Time will tell whether he manages to bounce back, but his fate at the moment is a stark reminder to all leaders who tend to take public support for granted. Few leaders of contemporary politics can boast of the kind of support that Lalu enjoyed in the 1990s. As a matter of fact, the political journey of a village boy who rode buffaloes in his childhood was a testimony to the innate strength of Indian democracy.

Lalu had made the most of his opportunity by championing the cause of social justice in Bihar. He not only took on the hostile feudal forces in Bihar but also showed remarkable political acumen to gradually consolidate his base. With his witty one-liners, he assiduously cultivated an image of the common man’s leader who knew how to play to the gallery with remarkable chutzpah.

By the time he was reelected as the chief minister in 1995 assembly election, Lalu had emerged as the proverbial monarch of everything he surveyed. But like most of the monarchs in history, he too had a fatal flaw of character.

Lalu committed the blunder of paying no attention to governance at all. With a leader so contemptuous of development at the helm, Bihar failed to reap the benefits of the post-liberalisation era and remained a land of no hope for many years. It was at the height of Lalu’s popularity that the fodder scam took place. From being a messiah fighting for the downtrodden, he became an alleged conspirator in the scam.

Interestingly, Lalu did not lose his political clout despite the severe dent to his image. He installed his semi-literate wife Rabri Devi as the chief minister, made all Congress MLAs ministers in the government and even acceded to the demand for creation of Jharkhand to weaken the BJP in Bihar.

Even before he lost power to Nitish Kumar in November 2005, he had secured the berth of the railway minister in the UPA-I government.

This was certainly not bad for a man who had been carrying the millstone of the fodder scam case around his neck with no sweat on his brows for many years. But, as the cliché goes, the long arms of the law finally caught up with him last week. Lalu’s conviction has underlined the fact again that no one is above law. The RJD boss is, of course, hopeful of coming out clean. But at this juncture, his fate is uncertain, and this is a lesson for all leaders that people trust should not be breached or undermined by those they elect.

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