|Policemen posted outside Ranchi’s Birsa Munda Central Jail, where Lalu Prasad is lodged, enjoy sweets distributed by RJD workers to celebrate the bail order and (above) minister Annapurna Devi is all smiles after meeting her party chief on Friday. (Prashant Mitra)
Ranchi, Dec. 13: RJD chief Lalu Prasad, who received bail relief from the Supreme Court today after spending 74 days in Birsa Munda Central Jail, Hotwar, displayed remarkable sangfroid on hearing the news, while party workers celebrated a mini-Holi outside prison gates and Congress and JMM hailed the verdict as a boost for secular forces ahead of Lok Sabha polls.
In all likelihood, Lalu will step out of jail on Saturday or Monday.
Hearing the petition of Lalu’s counsel Ram Jethmalani, the bench headed by Chief Justice P. Sathasivam granted the former MP bail, but left it to the trial court to decide bail bonds, sureties and other conditions to be imposed on him.
A special CBI court, which found Lalu guilty in a fodder scam case and awarded him a five-year conviction, is normally closed on the second Saturday of the month and every Sunday, but Lalu supporters are hoping an exception would be made tomorrow.
Though Lalu’s conviction stripped him of his MP tag, he is not a spent force.
Chief minister Hemant Soren, whose coalition government is propped up by five RJD MLAs, including two ministers, hailed the Supreme Court verdict. “He (Lalu) followed the legal system and got his much-awaited reprieve. I honour the court’s verdict,” Hemant said.
State Congress president Sukhdeo Bhagat said Lalu was a symbol of secular forces. “His bail is most welcome,” Bhagat said.
Rural development minister and Congress MLA C.S. Dubey went a step ahead. “We (read Congress and RJD) will fight Lok Sabha polls together,” he said.
Inside Birsa jail, a staffer who gave Lalu the good news said: “Laluji said it was due to everyone’s blessings and efforts that the Supreme Court granted him bail. But it wasn’t easy to read his mind.”
Jail superintendent D.K. Pradhan told The Telegraph that he was waiting for a copy of the apex court judgment.
“According to procedure, we have to get the bail bond on which my countersignature is needed. Lalu Prasad will step out of jail once legal formalities are complete. Have patience,” he said.
Lalu’s apparent political heir and son Tejaswi, now in Patna, is preparing to come to Ranchi. When The Telegraph called him this afternoon, an aide who took the call, said: “Bhaiya nahan rahein hain, Ranchi ki taiyari hai, aaj sham ko ya kal (brother’s taking a bath, preparing for Ranchi visit this evening or tomorrow morning).”
RJD minister in the Hemant Soren cabinet Annapurna Devi, who was the first to turn up outside Birsa jail, came with sawa man (50kg) laddoos. RJD MLAs Janardan Paswan, Sanjay Yadav, Independent MLA Harinarayan Rai, MCC MLA Arup Chatterjee, among others, also met Lalu.
In the afternoon, as scores of Lalu supporters started thronging Birsa jail, smeared gulal on each other and distributed laddoos, pethas and apples, the local administration beefed up security.
Anil Singh Azad, RJD district president (Ranchi), said they would organise a “cultural programme” near Khelgaon More near the jail on Monday. But a note of caution was struck by the man of the moment himself — Lalu had instructed supporters not to come in hordes when he stepped out of jail, Shahdeo Rai, district vice-president of RJD from Vaishali, said.
Behind bars, Lalu quipped one-liners, mostly related to politicians, but his trademark guffaws were reduced to smiles. Of late, he took pleasure in watering plants in his upper division jail and cooking.
Now, Birsa jail looks all set to lose his best-known VVIP inmate.
But, former Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda, former ministers Anosh Ekka, Harinarayan Rai, Kamlesh Singh, Bhanu Pratap Shahi, IAS officers such as Pradeep Kumar, Siyaram Prasad Sinha, former JPSC chairman Dilip Prasad, among others, still make the jail an address of tainted movers and shakers.