Indians are rather intriguing when it comes to corruption. It is almost as if they accept that big boys will play big — the big boys in this case being politicians. That makes it easier for the small boys to play too — even if they play a little smaller. Lalu Prasad had to give up his chair as chief minister of undivided Bihar in 1997 when he was charged with participation in the Rs 950-crore fodder scandal and had to go to prison for 135 days before getting bail. But he did not lose too much of his political shine or popular appeal in the 17 years that followed. Not only was he able to anoint his wife chief minister in his stead when taken to prison in 1997 — the Rashtriya Janata Dal evidently had no one else to lead them — but he has also prospered since then, flourishing as the RJD chief and a member of parliament, while being as provocative, witty, powerful, canny and comfortable as he could desire. No wonder his first reaction upon hearing the ‘guilty’ verdict in the special court in Ranchi was one of wonder, even disbelief. So while it is undoubtedly heartening that justice is moving on its course, its slowness is not merely disappointing, but also, obviously, gives rise to a sense of security. It has taken 17 years for the law to prove that sense of security false.
Now that it has happened, it is a major event, almost matching in scale the massive amounts removed from the public treasury all those years ago, in the name of equally enormous herds of fictitious cattle. A rudderless RJD may find it difficult to see its way through the storm of alliances preceding the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, and that, of course, would change calculations for quite a few parties. More dramatically, if the Supreme Court ruling regarding the disqualification of convicted legislators is followed, the erstwhile Bihar chief minister will immediately lose his Lok Sabha seat and not be able to contest polls in the near future. It may look as though all this is as it should be. Sadly enough, this is rather new for India, where voters have become used to looking up to politicians who like picking all the primroses along the primrose way. But the fact that the court has at last come to a decision is also an indication that times are changing, possibly for the better. The delay suggests pressures from which the justice system should ideally be free. The decision suggests that such a freedom may finally be within sighting distance.