- Supreme Court rules Lalu will face trial in a series of cases
- All cases linked to fodder scam while he was Chief Minister
- His sons, who are ministers, accused of many illicit real estate deals
Today, the Supreme Court ruled that Lalu, as he is known, will have to face trial in a range of cases that are rooted in his term as Chief Minister of Bihar in the 90s. Lalu has said that because he has been convicted in one of the cases, the others should be dropped, because he cannot be prosecuted for the same offense in multiple cases. The Supreme Court refused that and ordered a 9-month deadline for the trial to be completed in what is known as the fodder scam because it saw an alleged 1,000 crores being lost on account of systemic fraud in the purchase of fodder for cattle.
"This verdict suits Nitish Kumar because a weaker Lalu will be easier to handle," assessed the BJP's Sushil Kumar Modi. The Chief Minister who is on an official trip to Delhi, refused to comment on the judgement.
Over the weekend as well, the Chief Minister maintained silence after a TV channel broadcast what is said was a taped phone call made from prison by notorious gangster Mohammed Shahabuddin to Lalu last year. Mr Shahabuddin is a member of Lalu's party. NDTV cannot verify the authenticity of the tape. The BJP says it proves that Lalu is complicit in allowing a convicted don to break the rules. Lalu is allegedly heard promising to act on a complaint made by the incarcerated former member of parliament against a senior police officer.
Lalu did not comment on the tapes but a spokesperson from his party, Manoj Jha, justified it, stating that Mr Shahabuddin was seeking intervention to defuse communal tension brought to his notice while in jail.
Over the last month, the BJP's top leader in Bihar, Sushil Kumar Modi, has held 10 press conferences at which he has furnished documents that he says out Lalu's sons, Tejashwi and Tej Pratap, both in their 20s and ministers in Bihar, as beneficiaries of secret land deals. In each case, the BJP politician says, Lalu used earlier positions of power - as Railways Minister, for example - to oblige companies which repaid him by buying land that passed from one proxy firm to another till it ended up as owned by a company which has Lalu's children as its directors. Lalu has not denied the real estate assets - which include a two-acre plot on the outskirts of Patna being developed as Bihar's largest mall, a project worth Rs 500 crores - but says that they were listed, as required, in his sons' declarations of their wealth. That is not the case. A petrol pump in Patna, for example, has been established as unrevealed - the Lalu clan said that's because it is still under-construction and not operational.
The Bihar government is already investigating why the Patna Zoo abjured a transparent bidding process to buy soil worth nearly 40 lakhs, allegedly from the plot of land owned by the Yadavs where Bihar's biggest mall is under development.
Mr Kumar's party won far fewer seats in the last election. Lalu, one of the country's most charismatic politicians who stresses his commitment to backward castes, emerged as No 1. However, his conviction in the first fodder scam case means he cannot hold any public office. Despite his party winning the most seats, he said he would honour a pre-election agreement for Mr Kumar to retain office as Chief Minister if their alliance (which also includes the Congress) was successful.
Mr Kumar is now serving his third consecutive term as Chief Minister. Till the last election, Lalu and he were hostile rivals. They buried their differences to keep the BJP from winning Bihar based on a high-octane campaign led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.