- Supreme Court orders trial of Lalu Yadav in corruption cases
- He is banned from contesting elections already
- It will be long drawn-out battle, concedes his party RJD
In 2013, the 68-year-old was sentenced to five years in jail after he was found guilty in one of five cases of corruption filed against him by the CBI. The bouquet of cases is based on his term as Chief Minister of Bihar in the 90s, when a huge scam based on purchasing cattle fodder gypped one of India's poorest states of 1,000 crores. Based on Supreme Court rules against politicians convicted of corruption, Mr Yadav was stripped of his membership of parliament and barred from running for election for six years.
Lalu Yadav applied for bail and campaigned for the 2015 Bihar elections after agreeing to an alliance with Nitish Kumar. Both men abandoned decades of acrimony to jointly take on the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with the Congress as a third ally. Mr Yadav's charismatic folksiness and stated championing of backward castes defeated the black mark of his conviction and his party won the most seats - more even than Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal United. Instead of pulling rank, Mr Yadav said he would honour the alliance's commitment and Nitish Kumar would serve a third term as Chief Minister. In return, his sons Tejashwi and Tej Pratap were made ministers.
Through them, in part, Lalu Yadav has exercised significant control over the Bihar government, but not without suggesting that he would like more - both he and wife Rabri Devi have said that like them, Nitish Kumar should make way for younger leaders to call the shots. Though their partnership has been punctuated with barbs like that, for the most part, it was holding.
Today, the country's top court said that Lalu Yadav will be tried in all five "fodder scam" cases, rejecting his appeal that because he has been convicted in one, the others should be dropped because they do him the injustice of trying him again for the same offense. Nitish Kumar refused to comment on the verdict, but Pawan Verma of his party said the dynamic of the alliance remains unchanged because the fodder scam charges and conviction were established before the collaboration was struck. Nothing new to look at here, he suggested.
Bhola Yadav, legislator from Lalu Yadav's party and a close aide, conceded, "Unless he's acquitted by the Supreme Court, he won't be able to contest elections. It's going to be a long draw-out battle."
Sushil Kumar Modi of the BJP claimed that Mr Yadav's setback is a victory for Nitish Kumar. "Lalu will now be weaker," he said, adding this is to the Chief Minister's advantage in an equation where Lalu held more power because he brings the most legislators to the table.
The Supreme Court has said the fodder scam must be completed within nine months. Investigators involved with the case said this will necessitate frequent appearances in court for Lalu Yadav. But in what's likely to be a bigger concern for the politician, he will, if convicted, have to complete half his jail term before being eligible for bail, suggested investigators handing his case.
Given Supreme Court rules, he will not be able to hold any public office unless he wins his cases in the top court, after they have traversed the lower courts.
The verdict against Lalu Yadav comes at a time when his sons and he occupy prime roles in corruption scandals leveled by the opposition. A series of property deals, for example, made through what seem to be proxy firms, have ended with Lalu Yadav's children, including his daughters, as owners of the land. The Yadavs have denied any wrongdoing, but Nitish Kumar has been careful not to support them.
In 1997, after a court ordered his arrest in the fodder scam, Lalu Yadav quit as Chief Minister and installed his wife as head of the government, an audacious move that he pushed through his party. When he was convicted in 2013, the cabinet of then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh approved an executive order to shield Mr Yadav, a crucial member of the national government, from the new Supreme Court ban on politicians holding office even while their appeals against conviction in corruption cases were being decided. It was a stunning intervention by Congress' number two Rahul Gandhi that forced the cabinet to abandon its move.
Lalu Yadav has long been established as a high-value political asset and skilled practitioner of alliances. But for the man who has served as Railways Minister and Chief Minister of Bihar, the next few months could test the staying power he has long demonstrated.