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Ex-MP jail cloud on Lalu rebound

- Fodder scam shadow

June 3: Former RJD MP R.K. Rana was today sentenced to five years’ rigorous imprisonment and fined Rs 2.5 lakh in a fodder scam case, casting a shadow on the future of his mentor Lalu Prasad.

The court of special CBI judge Sita Ram Prasad pronounced the sentence of Rana and former BJP MLA Dhruv Bhagat in Ranchi at a time when the embattled RJD chief has been battling hard to chart out his comeback course. The duo have been sent to jail with eight others — four government officials and four suppliers — in the fodder scam case (RC-33A/96).

The court on May 31 had held the 10 guilty of embezzling Rs 37 lakh from the Godda treasury in the case, described by the CBI sources as similar in nature to the one (RC-20A/96) in which Lalu, another former chief minister Jagannath Mishra, JD(U) MP Jagdish Sharma and Rana have been chargesheeted.

The RC-20A/96 case is said to be in the advanced stage of trial. “The court has heard the witnesses from both the prosecution and the defence. It has almost reached the stage of pronouncement of the judgment,” a CBI official handling the case told The Telegraph.

Rana’s sentence would trigger unease in the RJD camp for sure because it would revive the memories of the CBI chargesheeting Lalu in as many as six fodder scam cases. They turned out to be the virtual “nemesis” of Lalu, who had returned to power with a resounding victory in the 1995 Assembly elections. He was forced to demit his office as the chief minister in favour of his wife Rabri Devi when a CBI court issued warrant of arrest against him in the fodder scam case (RC-20A/96) in July 1997.

Lalu went to jail six times in connection with the six cases, all dealing with the conspiracy aspect of the mega scandal.

“His protracted imprisonment and in the process loss of control over the state machinery provided the Opposition then —mainly the JD(U)- BJP combination — the ammunition to nail him consistently and bring his image down in the eyes of the people,” said a senior IAS officer.

Rana has been convicted at a time when Lalu is believed to have regained some ground in the state. He recently organised a Parivartan Rally drawing appreciable crowd. He expects the RJD candidate, Prabhunath Singh, to outperform his JD(U) rival in the Maharajganj bypoll, the result of which would be announced on June 5.

“Moreover, the Lok Sabha polls and the Assembly elections are due in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Lalu was perhaps planning to tap the anti-incumbency factor against the NDA regime,” said a senior RJD leader, apprehending that the developments at the level of the court and the CBI do not augur well for the RJD’s prospects.

Rana, a two-term RJD MP from Khagaria and once an MLA from the same seat, has been a close aide of Lalu over the years. After starting off as a veterinary doctor at the government poultry farm in Patna in the 1980s, Rana came close to Lalu — then a rising leader on the state’s panorama.

A Yadav like the RJD boss, Rana quit his job and joined the Janata Dal after Lalu became the chief minister in 1990. He was first elected as an MLA from Khagaria in 1995. Later, he contested the Khagaria Lok Sabha seat, winning it in 1998 and 2004.

Rana was like a family member of Lalu through the Lalu-Rabri regime. His wife Naina Rana and son Amit Rana also contested the Assembly elections on RJD tickets but never won.

Dipesh Chandak, a supplier of animals’ medicines and an accused-turned-government witness in the case, described before the court how Rana worked as a conduit between Lalu (chief minister then) and the fodder scam kingpin, Shyam Bihari Sinha. Chandak in his recorded statements also revealed the financial transactions between them, enabling the CBI to register cases against Lalu, the CBI sources said.