During the just-concluded Assembly poll campaign in Meghalaya, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah described its Chief Minister, Konrad K Sangma, as “most corrupt” and heaped charges of money laundering on him. But Sangma’s National People’s Party won 26 of 57 seats it contested and formed the government. The Bharatiya Janata Party won two of the 60 seats it contested but made a frenetic U-turn once the results were out and extended support to Sangma. Modi and Shah graced Sangma’s swearing-in ceremony at Shillong on 7 March—the same day Central Bureau of Investigation sleuths questioned the Rashtriya Janata Dal president Lalu Prasad Yadav at his daughter Misa Bharti’s home in New Delhi. The corruption charges against Sangma would obviously not be discussed, forget about probe, now.
The Prime Minister did not mention Adani even after the entire Opposition demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into the Hindenburg research report that claims to have exposed the group’s “misappropriations”, causing worldwide outrage. Repeatedly stalling Parliament on the issue didn’t move the Treasury Benches. Even an inspector-level official has not questioned Adani. The media house Al Jazeera has, in the meantime, claimed to have exposed how the Adani Group was allotted a coal block in violation of the Supreme Court’s order.
Sangma and Adani are just the tips of the iceberg of countless politicians and businessmen who enjoy impunity because they are in the “good books” of the ruling BJP. It is an open secret that many top leaders who faced the CBI’s heat, or that of the Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax authorities, suddenly got freedom after joining the BJP. Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, Union Minister for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, Narayan Rane, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and former Trinamool Congress leaders Suvendu Adhikari and Mukul Roy are well-known among those with central investigating agencies hot on their heels until they joined the BJP.
On the other hand, Lalu Prasad Yadav—perhaps the most uncompromising and belligerent opponent of the BJP—was released on bail after serving the bailable period of his jail term in the so-called fodder scam cases in March last year. He underwent a kidney transplant (donated by his daughter Rohini Acharya) in Singapore and returned to New Delhi on 11 February. Doctors have advised him against being in crowds for fear of infection. But a twelve-member CBI team questioned him for four hours in what they have termed as the “land-for-jobs” case.
Nature of the Cases
It was in 2017 that the CBI filed two cases against Lalu, his family members and others. At the time, his RJD was in a Mahagathbandhan or Grand Alliance with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal-United and the Congress party. The Alliance had roundly defeated the BJP in the 2015 Assembly poll and was in power in Bihar. The charges under these cases belonged to the period when Lalu was Union Railway Minister (2004-09). The allegations included: 1—Lalu took land in lieu of giving Group D jobs in the Railways, and 2—the Railways sold two IRCTC hotels in Ranchi (Jharkhand) and Bhubaneshwar (Odisha) to private operators in violation of stipulated provisions.
In fact, the CBI had received complaints about these cases from Lalu’s opponents during his tenure as Railway minister. The CBI investigated it first in 2008 and closed it, saying there was “no evidence”. Again, when Mamata Banerjee became Railway minister, the CBI probed these charges but closed the matter again in 2011 after finding “no evidence”. Now, how did the CBI, which had closed the cases twice, re-open them in 2017?
Lalu and his party alleged the CBI worked at the behest of the BJP, aiming to break the Mahagathbandhan. CBI and Income Tax officials raided Lalu’s home in Patna and many establishments concerning these two cases and filed a charge sheet against him, his wife Rabri Devi, son and present Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav, daughter Misa Bharti, and others. After that, in 2017, Nitish Kumar dumped Mahagathbandhan and returned to the BJP fold.
Time rolled past. Days became months and months became years. The CBI did not pursue these cases so long as Nitish Kumar remained with the BJP. However, as soon as he dumped the BJP and returned to Mahagathbandhan, it swung into action. In August 2022, the agency raided over 17 establishments allegedly linked with Lalu and people close to him when the Nitish-led Mahagathbandhan was seeking a confidence vote in the Bihar Assembly.
After that, the CBI petitioned a court to cancel Tejaswhi Yadav’s bail in the IRCTC case, which it rejected. It also petitioned to extend Lalu’s sentence term in the fodder cases to return him to prison. On 15 March, following another petition, the Rouse Avenue Court in Delhi summoned Lalu, Rabri, Misa and others. But ahead of it, on 6 March, the CBI had interrogated Rabri in Patna for six hours and Lalu on 7 March in New Delhi.
Reasons for Heat on Lalu
Lalu is perhaps the only regional satrap who never compromised with the BJP and has stood like a rock behind the minorities, who are at the epicentre of Sangh Parivar-sponsored hate campaigns. Moreover, virtually every Opposition party—the Congress, left parties, regional parties in the South, and the Aam Aadmi Party, whose former ministers Satyendra Jain and Manish Sisodia are in jail on corruption charges—charges BJP with using central investigation agencies to break them and coerce their leaders to join it.
The BJP has evidently had some success in this ‘plan’, for many leaders in Maharashtra, West Bengal, northeastern states, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Goa, who had the agencies chasing after them in various alleged “scams” got a reprieve once they entered the BJP fold. As Tejashwi Yadav has said on Twitter—“अगर लालू जी BJP से हाथ मिला लेते तो वो आज हिंदुस्तान के राजा हरीशचंद्र होते। तथाकथित चारा घोटाला दो मिनट में भाईचारा घोटाला हो जाता अगर लालू जी का DNA बदल जाता।” That is, if Lalu had joined hands with the BJP, the fodder scam would have given way to bonhomie—but that isn’t possible for Lalu’s DNA cannot be changed.
The BJP broke the Mahagathbandhan in 2017 with CBI and I-T raids on Lalu’s home, which triggered Nitish’s U-Turn. But now, the Bihar Chief Minister’s party claims to have understood the BJP’s “game”. Nitish has repeatedly said it is using raids to break the Grand Alliance, which he would not let happen again.