Patna, April 11: A paragraph innocuously written in 1997 when Lalu Prasad walked out of the Janata Dal to form his own party — the RJD — is being now used to seek the disqualification of party candidates in the ongoing election.
Samrat Choudhary, the dissident RJD legislator who in February led a party putsch against Lalu, today petitioned the chief electoral officer to disqualify RJD candidates as Lalu Prasad, who has been convicted in the fodder scam, had allotted symbols on his own signature.
“Lalu has been disqualified from either contesting or even voting under the Representation of the People Act, 1951. The constitution of his own party disqualifies persons convicted on account of corruption from even holding primary membership of the party,” Choudhary told The Telegraph.
Lalu scoffed at the petition. “Samrat is a bhagora (deserter). He did not get a ticket from the JD(U) neither did his father (former minister Shakuni Choudhary). He is levelling all sorts of baseless charges,” he said.
RJD’s national spokesperson Manoj Jha, while dubbing Samrat’s petition “useless”, said the dissident MLA was a “puppet”. “The real power behind him is the chief minister. This petition is being used after the first phase of polls in which the RJD is emerging as the major political force. This petition is a desperate attempt to send a message that the RJD is not a political force,” Jha said.
In February, Choudhary had met Assembly Speaker Uday Narayan Choudhary and submitted a petition signed by 13 MLAs declaring that they had lost faith in the RJD and wanted to be recognised as a separate group. The Speaker declared the 13 MLAs as unattached. The RJD hit back by parading nine of the 13 MLAs the next day and accused the Speaker of violating anti-defection laws.
Samrat Choudhary’s petition quotes Part IV A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, which deals with registration of political parties. The law stresses that it is mandatory for political parties to frame a constitution and rules of the party, which it must follow. “I would like to draw your attention to the constitution and rules of RJD. The Article 21 of the constitution of the party declares that ‘persons found guilty of immoral behaviour, black marketing, graft, corruption, cheating and appropriation of funds will have their primary membership of the party suspended/cancelled,” the petition says.
However, the RJD’s constitution and rules put on the party’s official website does not mention this clause.
Samrat Choudhary pointed out that a special CBI court in Ranchi had already convicted Lalu, the president of the RJD, in a fodder scam case. “Laluji’s membership of the Lok Sabha has been terminated and he has been barred from either contesting polls or even casting votes,” he points out in his petition.
Choudhary goes on to ask how a man who has been barred from fighting elections or casting votes can be the president of a political party. He also questioned the legal authority of Lalu to select candidates of the party and giving them symbols through his signature. He said that according to the constitution of the RJD, Lalu cannot be a member of the party. Calling it a “constitutional crisis”, Choudhary asked the Election Commission to derecognise the RJD and declare all its candidates as disqualified.
Legal experts said the Election Commission should take note of his application. Patna High Court advocate S.B.K. Mangalam, who is known for arguing election-related cases in the high court, told The Telegraph: “Though I have not seen the papers, but on the basis of what you are saying, there is a force in the argument of Samrat Choudhary. The Election Commission should take note of his application.”
He also acknowledged that he has never confronted such a case, but added that if the party constitution does not permit him (Lalu) to continue as the president of the party, then he was not authorized to allot symbols to candidates under his signature.
“If he (Lalu) is not the member of the party he is heading after his conviction in a criminal case, how can he allot the symbol as only the authorized person can select candidates and allot symbols,” Mangalam said.
When the RJD was created on July 5, 1997, the constitution stressed that a person could be national president for only two terms. However, at a national meet of its executive members in Valmiki Nagar (West Champaran) in 2003, the party deleted the clause and made Lalu Prasad the president of the party for life.
Additional reporting by Anand Raj