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Home / Politics / Policy /  Lalu Prasad faces 11-year electoral exile after fodder scam ruling

New Delhi: Former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad was sentenced to five years in prison on Thursday after being convicted in a 17-year-old case related to the embezzlement of 37 crore meant for the purchase of cattle fodder for farmers in the state.

Unless overturned by a higher court, the ruling by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in the so-called fodder scam case will automatically ban the 65-year-old leader of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) from running for electoral office for the next 11 years.

Effectively, it means the likely end of Prasad’s political career. For the RJD, which has been trying to regain its political ascendancy in Bihar after being eclipsed by the Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), under Nitish Kumar in recent years, the ruling comes as a body blow.

Prasad, who was in addition fined 25 lakh, will be unseated from the Lok Sabha after the CBI special court’s ruling. The Supreme Court recently ruled that convicted lawmakers should not fight an election for six years after their release.

“A person convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years...shall be disqualified from the date of such conviction and shall continue to be disqualified for a further period of six years since his release," the apex court ruled.

Only if a higher court stays or quashes both the conviction and the sentence can he run for election.

Prasad, who came to political prominence by championing the cause of the so-called other backward classes (OBC) and projecting himself as a messiah of the underprivileged, has been lodged in Birsa Munda Central Jail in Ranchi since his conviction in the fodder scam case on Monday.

Former Bihar chief minister Jagannath Mishra, JD(U) lawmaker Jagdish Sharma and 42 others were also convicted in the case that dates back to the early 1990s when Prasad was heading the state government.

Special court judge Pravas Kumar Singh sentenced both Mishra and Sharma to four years of imprisonment each. Sharma will lose his Lok Sabha seat.

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government on 24 September cleared an ordinance to overturn the Supreme Court’s July order disqualifying convicted lawmakers, but was forced to withdraw it under a barrage of criticism, including by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.

Analysts are divided on the political impact of Prasad’s conviction. “We do not know what would be the higher court’s verdict on the case," said Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst.

Mrug cited the example of late former prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, who was absolved by higher courts after being convicted of bribing members of Parliament from the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha to defeat a no-confidence motion.

“The RJD still is a fighting force and they have the potential to put their act together," Mrug said. “The RJD still occupies the space of the anti-incumbent force in Bihar, and political parties like the RJD have the morphing ability when it comes to such a crisis."

The RJD continued to strike a defiant note, saying Prasad was a victim of a conspiracy.

“We are rock-solid behind him. Under Rabri Devi (wife of Prasad and a former chief minister), we will take our party forward...," Ram Kripal Yadav of the RJD told reporters after the judgement.

Prasad’s party ruled Bihar, an economically backward but politically crucial state that elects 40 lawmakers to the Lok Sabha, for nearly 15 years, but made little headway in altering its poor socioeconomic indicators. The Nitish Kumar-led JD(U), which came to power in 2005, turned around the state’s economy and was re-elected in 2010.

Bihar had the distinction of recording the highest average growth rate among all states in the 11th Plan period (2007-12).

As Kumar’s government starts feeling the effects of anti-incumbency, especially after its split with former ally Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the RJD has been generating political momentum in its favour.

PTI contributed to this story.

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