When the crew members of all important national and regional TV news channels converging outside Ranchi CBI court in the morning hours of 30th September, 2013, got linked to their respective TV studios, one thing was absolutely clear that this day was unlikely to be an ordinary one. It was the day for deciding the political destiny of Bihar’s stalwart Lalu Prasad; a day for signifying the might of the judiciary and thereby the supremacy of laws of the land. And more importantly, a day of reckoning for India’s democratic polity and the course of the political developments to follow in the days to come.
Those waiting for the news to filter out from the court room weren’t needed to wait long for it. As soon as the court hour commenced, the first thing that got pronounced in case no. 20A/ 1996 was that all the 45 accused that included Lalu Prasad were held guilty and convicted. The news cameramen and the correspondents of various news channels picking on this all important piece of information got into their acts and what followed was the endless debates all through the day.
Even while the ramifications of Lalu’s conviction and the fate that awaited for his very own political outfit – the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) – continue to be the focal points for discussion in the political arena, my memories, however, were taking me back to the day when Lalu for the first time in 1997 felt the heat of the fodder scam and had landed himself in Beur jail in Patna.
It was on 25 July,1997, to be more precise, when in the wake of the ‘fodder scam’ cases popping out – one after the other as can worms – that had signalled the beginning of the end of fall from grace of Lalu Prasad from the high pedestal of Bihar Chief Minister’s chair. As it turned out, he was to surrender that day his crown to none else but to his better (or perhaps ‘worse’) half in the midst of a very high octane drama.
Perched in the Bihar state secretariat as Cabinet Secretary around this time, I found myself unusually in a vantage position to have a ring side view of the happenings that were getting unfolded that day at a rather most hectic pace.
On reaching my office in the state secretariat, I found all kinds of news floating in the air with the one suggesting Upen Biswas, CBI Joint Director camping in Patna, to accomplish his mission of arresting the Bihar CM, Lalu happened to be in the forefront. As the day grew this piece of information too found many more ears and voices to spread far and wide across the corridors of sprawling secretariat buildings.
Around midday, I was called in by the Chief Secretary, only to be told that if I intended to go for lunch, like any other day, the same needed to be the briefest one possible. Back after an early lunch, when I saw the Chief Secretary again, I was told to liaise immediately with the Raj Bhawan and to make all necessary preparations for swearing of the new Chief Minister in the evening at 6.00 pm that day. To my query as to who was to be sworn in, he preferred to maintain a studied silence.
That evening the Raj Bhawan, as it turned out, allowed to be witnessed somewhat a ‘farcical’ drama of a change of guard from one hand to the other. Rabri Devi initially reportedly showing utmost reluctance in the backdrop of her obvious limitations for the job she was asked to handle, was literally cajoled and forced to give in to Lalu’s persuasions.
Just minutes ahead of the appointed time Rabri Devi escorted by her husband, the RJD chief and a few party workers entered the Raj Bhawan. The official paraphernalia that followed was the briefest one that I had ever witnessed before. The gentle lady first handed over to Governor a letter of support in her favour signed by the MLAs of the ruling RJD and a copy of Party’s resolution about her being chosen unanimously as leader of the party.
Her swearing- in ceremony in the presence of Lalu and a handful of party workers and some senior bureaucrats, was a swift event and by the time one from the sideline could wish to witness as to what was happening, the new Chief Minster had already finished and was seen busy in signing the oath documents – a final act on such occasions.
The day thus ended on a note of some satisfaction for Lalu who seemed to have perceived that days behind bars for him were unlikely to be much less torturous than it would otherwise have been. However, he seemed to have failed to appreciate then that the long arms of laws would eventually catch up and get him into their fold eventually. That, however, has since taken some 16 odd years and that, in the period intervening, he had had a free run on India’s democratic pitch may seem to suggest – ironically though – the way the critical democratic institutions in our midst are functioning.
From Patna Beur jail in July, 1997 to Ranchi Birsa Munda jail in September, 2013 – the intervening period providing him adequate opportunities for a tumultuous journey – was the period he kept fiddling the political chessboard at the state and central levels, experiencing highs and lows of his career. 30th September, 2013, however, proved that he had finally run out of his luck and that the days to follow would be simply as harrowing as it could be – a fact no one knows it better than Lalu.
After the court’s verdict going against the RJD chief, I kept pondering over the days when as District Magistrate of Saran (Chhapra) in 1985, I had seen Lalu emerging out of the shadows of a product of JP’s Movement to make a successful transition from being a political activist to that of a Member of the Bihar Legislative Assembly for the first time.
Pitted against one Sakaldeo Singh, a Dhanbad coal mafia, in an electoral battle for Sonepur Assembly seat that year, I still vividly recall Lalu butting in at the stroke of midnight of the pre-poll day in our (DM, SP and DIG) final review meeting in Sonepur police station. All that he intended to know from us was whether foolproof security arrangements around all the polling booths were actually in place. On getting assured on this count, he returned a hugely satisfied man. This election, eventually, sent him as MLA and thus began a journey signifying a tryst with his political career.
In the next 5 years time how he, by dint of his political acumen and machinations, elbowed out the leaders senior to him in the party, to get the crown of Chief Minister Bihar, seems nothing short of a fairytale.
His fairytale run in the political arena made rapid strides. While his nominee Rabri Devi kept providing him all the opportunities to call shots unobtrusively in Bihar affairs, his own switching over to politics at the national level, yielded him a job as Union Minister of Railways – an opportunity that he exploited to the hilt.
The latest court judgement, however, poses for him a huge challenge to save his political career and to be able to continue guiding the prospect of his party – the RJD. Destined to serve sentence of a prison term for anywhere between 4- 7 years, if he doesn’t get the verdict reversed by the higher court soon enough – a daunting prospect given the pace of judicial administration – it all but seems end of the road for Lalu.