Lalu: Double whammy
New Dehi/Patna, Sept. 28: Rahul Gandhi’s dismissal of the ordinance to protect convicted lawmakers has come as a double whammy for embattled RJD chief Lalu Prasad ahead of judgment day in a crucial fodder scam case.
The designated CBI court in Ranchi, where Lalu’s trial is on, is set to pronounce its verdict in a case relating to fraudulent withdrawal of money from the Chaibasa treasury on Monday. Lalu, who was chief minister of undivided Bihar when the drawals took place, is one of the key accused in the case.
The UPA government’s hurried move to bring the ordinance was believed to be tailormade to shield Lalu. This was being read as a signal that the Congress was inclined to team up with the RJD in the 2014 general election.
Rahul’s “tear-and-throw” salvo is being seen as rejection of “corrupt” leaders like Lalu. Congress circles believe that if Rahul’s view prevails, which is likely to, he would not allow the party to “compromise” and align with the RJD.
Also, it suggests that Lalu’s chief rival, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, is fast replacing him as an “ally” in the new power balance emerging in the Congress.
Be it by coincidence or by design, Nitish and Rahul are on the same page on the controversial ordinance, which is still lying with President Pranab Mukherjee for consideration. A day ahead of Rahul’s stunning attack calling for the document to be “torn up and thrown away”, Nitish had slammed the government for the manner in which it had brought the ordinance “through the backdoor”.
Yesterday, the chief minister hailed Rahul. “I appreciate the stand that Rahul Gandhiji has taken on the ordinance. I had already objected to the manner in which it was cleared,” he said.
JD(U) leaders said Nitish was trying to occupy the space that Lalu had in the Congress. “It is obvious that Nitish has occupied the space that Lalu Prasad had in the Congress over the years,” said a senior JD(U) insider. “Lalu,” he asserted, “stands isolated now.”
“Rahul Gandhi’s rejection of the ordinance shows a clear dislike for Lalu Prasad,” JD(U) MP and spokesman K.C. Tyagi said. He said the ordinance was a “return gift” to Lalu for the support he had extended in formation of the JMM-Congress government in Jharkhand.
It was clear that while Lalu was desperately trying to win over the Congress, the JD(U) was equally active to abort any such possibility. Yesterday, two JD(U) members in the joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probing the 2G spectrum scam — MPs Sharad Yadav and R.C.P. Singh — absented and helped Congress. The probe report, which gives a clean chit to the Prime Minister and the finance minister, was adopted with a comfortable majority of 16-11 votes.
Nitish has also welcomed the Raghuram Rajan committee report on backwardness of states, the only chief minister from among the “least developed” states to do so.
The JD(U), sources said, is wary that a Congress-RJD-LJP combination would be preferred more by the sizeable Muslim voters in Bihar eyeing to defeat the Narendra Modi-led BJP. This could spell trouble for the JD(U) in the 2014 polls.
Bihar Congress leaders, used to attacking the Nitish government at the drop of a hat, are more cautious now. “There is a large section in the state Congress which still has a soft corner for Lalu. This section favours an alliance with Lalu because he still commands a sizeable chunk of the Yadav and Muslim votes. But we can no longer be vocal for Lalu with clear-cut signs of the Congress leadership reaching out to Nitish emerging,” said a senior Congress leader, who spoke under cover of anonymity.
The RJD sought to put up a brave face, saying the ordinance was “good” for the democratic health of the country. “The Supreme Court’s verdict disqualifying convicted lawmakers with immediate effect was not pragmatic. A lawmaker will lose his position soon after he is convicted for two years. What will happen if the higher courts stay or annul the lower court’s order,” RJD chief whip Samrat Choudhary said.
Though Lalu is yet to react on Rahul’s utterances, RJD cadres are livid.
“He (Rahul) is not aware how Laluji went out of his way to support Sonia Gandhi when her close aides had rejected her on her nationality issue in 1996. It was Laluji who had stood behind her (Sonia) describing her as Bharat ki bahu (daughter-in-law of India), enabling her to get hold of her party when the likes of Sharad Pawar and P.A. Sangma had risen in revolt against her,” said a senior RJD leader, who didn’t wish to be named given the “sensitive” nature of the ties between the RJD and Congress. “Lalu is an emotional leader. But Rahul will have to pay a price bigger than what the BJP paid for befriending a cunning leader like Nitish.”
The BJP seems to have sensed that Nitish was getting closer to the Congress. “Nitish seems to have fallen in love with this government when others are ready to say goodbye,” remarked BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad.