New Delhi: The jailing of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief and former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad in the fodder scam case could widen political fault lines in Bihar, with opposition unity suffering a setback.
With general elections a little over a year away, Prasad’s sentencing not only puts the focus back on corruption but also poses further challenges for the state’s largest political party as its entire second line of leadership—primarily Prasad’s children Misa Bharti, Tej Pratap and Tejaswi Yadav—faces corruption charges.
RJD is a key ally of the Congress party, and the 69-year-old Prasad’s role was said to be significant in the opposition’s attempts to forge alliances in the run-up to the 2019 general election.
In Bihar, opposition parties led by the RJD and the Congress continue to be a formidable force, accounting for 106 of the legislative assembly’s 243 members. However, the challenge for the RJD in the months ahead is to ensure that its support base increases beyond its traditional voter base of Muslims and Yadavs.
“There is no doubt that Lalu Prasad has been a very dominant political figure in Bihar politics and he continues to be so. Similarly, it is also a fact that Lalu Prasad was able to do well in politics because he was a product of an ideological fight against the Emergency. But his children are only benefitting because of the presence of Lalu Prasad. RJD is now a family enterprise where members of one family would only benefit," said a senior leader of the Janata Dal (United) or JDU.
While the ruling JDU-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coalition is hoping to capitalise on the anti-corruption stand of the NDA against the opposition parties, the RJD leadership says there is a conspiracy to target Lalu Prasad for opposing BJP. Soon after the CBI court announced on Saturday the quantum of punishment against the RJD chief, he tweeted, “Rather than practising BJP’s Simple Rule—“Follow us or We will Fix you". I will die happily fixing myself for Social justice, harmony and equality."
A special CBI court in Ranchi on Saturday sentenced Prasad and 7 others to 3.5 years’ imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs5 lakh each in the second fodder scam case.
“There is a section of voters, particularly among Yadavs and Muslims, who have been loyal to RJD and Lalu Prasad. But people have now started to rise above caste-and religion- based politics. People want development and good governance, which the BJP-JDU government is providing under the leadership of chief minister Nitish Kumar. Some people would continue to try and consolidate on the basis of caste and religion but we are confident that people are in favour of development," said a senior Bihar cabinet minister requesting anonymity.
The Congress party, on the other hand, has maintained that its alliance with RJD remains unaffected even in the light of legal developments.
“With the 2G verdict, people in Bihar are of the opinion that Lalu Prasad is being singled out and this is nothing but political vendetta. Our alliance grows stronger from here and we feel that our traditional support could cement further and more aggressively in our favour," a senior Congress leader from Bihar said requesting anonymity.
Political analysts feel that this could be a major setback for Prasad and that the RJD runs the risk of defections.
“It’s a major setback for Lalu Prasad and RJD because he has been convicted and sentenced in a corruption case. Other members of the family are also facing investigations in alleged corruption charges; so, it will be difficult for them to remove the tag of corruption. The revival of the party seems difficult now. It is possible that some members of the RJD or Yadav vote bank can start moving towards other political parties," said Sanjay Kumar, director of New Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).
Senior leaders of the RJD feel that the sentencing will not impact the party’s prospects or opposition unity in the state and could instead bolsters RJD’s political future.
“RJD will emerge stronger out of this. If one goes to rural areas of Bihar and talks to people, they will realise the anger on the ground. There is a view that it is political vendetta against Lalu Prasad," said Shakti Singh, chief spokesperson of RJD’s Bihar unit and a member of the state legislative assembly.
“There are a lot of questions in people’s minds. All the anger and discontent among the people will find expression at polling booths when votes are cast next," he added.