|Lalu Prasad at Beur Central Jail in Patna in 1997
Patna, Sept. 30: Lalu Prasad smiled and recited a couplet by Allama Iqbal: “Kuchh baat hai ke hasti mit-ti nahin hamari/ Sadiyon raha hai dushman daur-e-jahan hamara.”
Roughly translated, it means: “Somehow my stature doesn’t erode despite the world being against me for ages.”
Few would have disputed the claim at the time, in October 1997. Lalu Prasad was “jailed” at Patna’s Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences as a fodder scam undertrial but was running Bihar as he used to.
Technically, he was not in power because he had stepped down as chief minister in favour of wife Rabri Devi before being “imprisoned” in July that year. Technically, he was a prisoner in his hospital cabin where he had been shifted from the Bihar Military Police guesthouse — his first “jail” — ostensibly for the treatment of a heart problem.
But he still remained the “Raja of Bihar”, running his party and his wife’s government by “remote control”.
A few things had changed, though. Discarding his pothi-patra jalao (burn religious scriptures) persona, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief had donned a 108-bead rudraksh rosary and wore a vermilion tikka. He had a photo of Goddess Durga hanging on the cabin wall.
“I believe in God now; I have turned vegetarian,” he had told this correspondent that autumn day 16 years ago, indicating his first journey to “jail” had shaken him out of his iconoclastic, non-superstitious persona.
After his conviction today, the thoughts of an out-of-power and isolated Lalu Prasad, stripped of his hasti (status) as MP, may well have turned to those good old days when he could laugh off his periodic incarcerations.
The security personnel deployed to guard him served as his attendants, massaging his feet after dinner. Many of Rabri’s cabinet colleagues constantly met him, and Lalu Prasad would call up government officials from the visitors’ cellphones to issue orders.
Brother-in-law Subhas Yadav (then in the RJD) and other trusted aides brought him milk, dahi and his favourite dishes: litti, chokha and sarson ka saag.
“I’m the president of the party mandated to rule Bihar. What’s wrong in my party leaders calling on me in jail?” Lalu Prasad would say when told that his actions might be violating the prison manual.
|CBI judge PK Singh and (right) investigating officer
AK Jha arrive at the court. Pictures by Prashant Mitra
When the CBI and some petitioners complained, the Supreme Court ordered him shifted to Patna’s Beur Central Jail.
Lalu Prasad received bail in the case after nearly five months, in time for him to join Chhat festivities at the Pehalwan Ghat here.
He was sent to jail five times between July 1997 and December 2001, for periods ranging from 15 days to almost five months, but he didn’t care.
“It hardly matters whether I’m in jail or out of it. The poor know that their voice is locked in jail. They will not tolerate my humiliation; they’ll vote with a vengeance for my party,” Lalu would tell visitors.
His party won 17 Lok Sabha seats in 1998 and he led it back to power after a few days’ gap following a hung verdict in the 2000 elections.