The Heat Is On
With rebels snapping at his
feet and yet another CBI chargesheet filed in the fodder scamthis
time in Jharkhand that has a hostile BJP Government in powerLaloo
is hemmed in like never before
The world's most famous Yadav, Lord Krishna,
was born in a prison. That is small consolation for Laloo Prasad Yadav,
the beleaguered "Raja of Bihar". Last week, as he returned to
Patna after campaigning in West Bengal, Laloo was greeted by the disturbing
report that the CBI had filed yet another chargesheet against him in the
multi-crore rupee fodder scam case. The CBI Court in Ranchi had even issued
a non-bailable arrest warrant against him.
This particular case relates to the fraudulent
withdrawal of Rs 182 crore over several years from the Doranda treasury
in Ranchi by officials of the Animal Husbandry Department, senior bureaucrats
and several politicians.
The rebels who plan
to upstage the
Laloo-Rabri applecart with NDA support
RANJAN YADAV: Laloo's former aide lacks mass base yet poses the
NAGMANI (left) and DHAMMAVIRYO: Despite having stood by Laloo in
the past crises, the two have rebelled against the RJD chief's attempt
to perpetuate family rule
Though it was the eighth case filed by the CBI
listing Laloo as a "conspirator" in the looting of state treasuries,
the former chief minister was clearly panicky this time. After all, the
case had been filed in Ranchi, capital of the new Jharkhand state, which
has a hostile government led by the BJP's Babulal Marandi. "I am
not surprised. This is a part of the bigger conspiracy against me by the
BJP and the NDA Government at the Centre, which has been using the CBI
as a tool. I will face this case too. I will expose them," thundered
As soon as news of the chargesheet and the warrant
reached the chief minister's house at Patna's 1 Anne Marg, the iron gates
were shut for visitors and mediapersons. Laloo and his wife, Chief Minister
Rabri Devi, held hurried consultations with trusted lieutenants and it
was decided to call an emergency meeting of the RJD Legislature Party
the same evening to chalk out strategies to meet the challenge.
The meeting led to rumours that Laloo and Rabri
might prop their eldest daughter, Misa Bharati, as the new chief minister
(see box). However, it also threw up a new line of argument to counter
the situation: that the filing of the chargesheet in the Jharkhand court
amounted to contempt of the Patna High Court, whose full bench had ruled
only four days ago that all the 36 fodder scam cases pending before the
court should be heard in Bihar.
Laloo's supporters claim the high court had
ruled that all cases pertaining to the "larger conspiracy" angle
fell within Bihar authorities' jurisdiction. "The CBI has suppressed
facts and misled the court while filing the chargesheet. This amounts
to contempt of court," his supporters argue. They also think it is
an obvious ploy to discredit their leader. "The CBI has no evidence
against Laloo but since its Joint Director U.N. Biswas has to serve the
political interests of his masters in the NDA Government-which has given
him an extension for two years-he has falsely implicated Laloo in the
case," alleges RJD spokesperson Shivanand Tiwary.
In the past, he was lodged in the Beur
Jail in Patna. With wife Rabri running the government, nothing seemed
He fears that if he is lodged in a Jharkhand
jail he will lose grip over the party and the Government.
Jharkhand's BJP Chief Minister Babulal
Marandi has said Laloo will be regarded as any other prisoner and
will get no special treatment.
NDA leaders believe that if Laloo stays
in jail for a long time, it will be easy to lure RJD MLAs and topple
the Rabri regime.
His once trusted aides like Ranjan Yadav
and Nagmani are working overtime persuading old contacts in the
RJD to dump Rabri and join an alternative government.
Laloo has been to jail thrice already
in fodder scam-related cases but this time, he looks jittery.
Laloo is no stranger to prison, having been to
jail five times-the first time during the Emergency. Of the remaining
four stints, three related to the fodder scam cases, staying for as long
as 90 days in jail on one occasion. This time, however, there is a clear
sense of panic among his loyalists, maybe because, unlike in the past,
Laloo might not be able to rule by proxy from within the prison.
Perhaps for the first time in his 11-year rule,
Laloo too feels hemmed in, both politically and legally. Trusted friends
like Ranjan Prasad Yadav, the Rajya Sabha member and the RJD working president
till recently, and Nagmani, the Lok Sabha MP, have walked out of the party
to form the splinter RJD (Democratic). They have taken with them fellow
MPs Bhante Dhammaviryo, Anwarul Haque and Sukhdeo Paswan, all of whom
rebelled against Laloo's attempts to perpetuate family rule. Dissidence
has led to cracks in the Cabinet as well, with Shakar Prasad Tekriwal
resigning as finance minister.
However, Laloo is trying to draw comfort from
the fact that no one from among the 115 MLAs has come out openly in support
of Tekriwal or Ranjan Yadav. "We have faced many such crises in the
past but the Government has survived. This time too all party legislators,
MPs and allies (Congress with 11 MLAs, each of whom is a minister) are
solidly behind Laloo and Rabri," claims Raghuvansh Prasad Singh,
RJD leader in the Lok Sabha.
The confidence is rooted in the fact that none
of the dissidents, not even Ranjan Yadav, has enough mass appeal to mobilise
the MLAs against the Laloo-Rabri leadership. Four days before the filing
of the chargesheet, Nagmani had boasted that the Rabri Government's days
were numbered. In fact, the dissidents were just waiting for Laloo to
be arrested and lodged in a Jharkhand jail before beginning their final
Their strategy is simple: to win over at least
39 of the 115 RJD legislators in order to split the party. Subsequently,
they hoped, the split would be formalised and Ranjan Yadav would be elected
as the leader of the new group. The NDA allies in the state-Samata, with
30 MLAs, BJP (35), Janata Dal (United) (12) and Lok Janshakti (6)-besides
the Bahujan Samaj Party (5) and some of the Independents would extend
support from outside to the alternative government.
The dissidents hoped that they would easily
muster an outside support of more than 100 MLAs and banked on the assumption
that the formation of a new government would be attractive enough a proposition
for a majority of RJD MLAs to cross over to their camp.
But the master manipulator that he is Laloo
has so far managed to stay a step ahead of his opponents, knowing well
enough how to break the enemy ranks and spread confusion. The day the
dissidents held a meeting in Delhi to set a deadline for the ouster of
the Rabri Government, Laloo telephoned some of the potential defectors
and warned them of the supposed BJP-NDA game plan.
As word spread in Patna about Laloo's possible
arrest, anger among his supporters mounted. Fearing widespread trouble
in the wake of his anticipated arrest, the state's Special Branch sounded
a red alert and asked all district magistrates and superintendents to
take precautionary measures. The Special Branch feared the RJD supporters
would attack the CBI offices, gherao or attack its officials, ransack
Central government establishments and target all those opposing the Rabri
The anger was not quite misplaced, considering
that hardcore Laloo supporters have for years been convinced the CBI has
been acting vindictively. Several remarks by senior party leaders alleging
that the CBI was trying to harass Laloo to please its political masters,
seemed to have added fuel to the fire.