Patna: It was Saturday evening. Rajshree – Bihar deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav’s wife, who is pregnant – was sweating feverishly and fell ill in the face of the Enforcement Directorate team questioning her for 15 hours. Tejashwi had her admitted at a Delhi hospital.
But in the fading light of the setting sun at Nakta diara – a cluster of villages on the northern outskirts of Patna across the Ganga – the residents seethed in anger at what they see as the “persecution” of Lalu Prasad and his family members. “Ati ho gael (Enough is enough),” said Mahtab Rai, a boatman, in Bhojpuri-Magahi. Anger was writ large on his face.
Nakta diara, nestled along the banks of the Ganga, is part of the Patliputra constituency, which BJP’s Ramkripal Yadav represents in the Lok Sabha. It’s home to nearly 9,000 voters – mostly Yadavs, though people from OBC and EBC communities also live here. Nakta diara has always been a Rastriya Janata Dal (RJD) bastion, but voters were earlier not hostile to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, many of them voted for him.
“We voted for Modi because we felt that he was good for the prime minister’s post. But we will never vote for him now. He has tortured our hero Lalu ji and his family members. What offence could his daughter-in-law have done; she was only recently married to Tejashwi. Why are Modi’s policemen raiding Laluji’s daughters and their innocent children?” asked Santosh Rai, another villager.
Nakta diara residents are largely boatmen and farmers. They ferry people and goods to and fro across the river from dawn to dusk. The farmlands in diara villages produce potato, sweet potato, cucumber and other vegetables in plenty, which the farmers carry in the boats to the wholesale markets at Digha and Antaghat on Patna’s southern bank.
While speaking, most of them had mobile phones in their hands. “Previously, we listened to Modi’s Mann ki Baat. No longer. He speaks lies. He can no longer buy our votes for five kg foodgrains. His only work is to torture Lalu ji and his family and protect his corrupt partymen,” Mahtab reacted. Most of the villagers appeared aware of the news about the CBI questioning and ED raids on Lalu’s family.
Reading this mood, Rashtriya Janata Dal MP and spokesman Manoj Jha said on Saturday about the investigating agencies’ conduct, “Our party’s support base is seething in anger. They are restive and want to hit the streets. But we have stopped them because we still believe that we have the rule of law in the country.”
Outrage across party lines
Nearly all the non-BJP parties have condemned the handling of the cases of alleged corruption involving Lalu and his family.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge slammed the Modi government for its “sinister design to kill democracy by misusing probe agencies against the opposition parties”. “His (Tejaswhi’s) pregnant wife and sisters are being harassed. Lalu Prasad ji is old, ill; even then the Modi government didn’t show humanity towards him,” he said.
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi took to Twitter, saying that the Modi government is “suppressing the unyielding voices of the opposition. Why is the government so scared of the vocal voices of the opposition?”
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal – who has seen two of his two former ministers Manish Sisodia and Satyendra Jain arrested – described the BJP as the “most corrupt” party.
Bihar chief minister and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar referred the CBI and ED’s action against Lalu and his family as a result of his joining the Mahagathbandhan. “They (investigating agencies) raided Lalu ji’s establishments in 2017 when we were in Mahagathbandhan. They fell silent after I went to them (BJP). Now they are raiding (Lalu and family) again when we are together,” he said.
BJP’s leader of opposition in the Bihar assembly Vijay Kumar Sinha alleged that Lalu was “reaping what he had sown”. The ED claimed that its team had found property and unaccounted transactions worth Rs 600 crore from Lalu’s family members. Tejashwi denied the claim, saying that the agencies had made similar claims in 2017 but nothing had come of it.
Targeting opposition and protecting BJP leaders
“This is not the first time that a party in power is misusing the central agencies. What’s new and also unprecedented is targeting opposition leaders – specifically those posing a threat to the political strength of the present regime – in a well-orchestrated manner,” said a serving commissioner-rank Indian Revenue Service officer, requesting anonymity. He cited several high-profile leaders in the past who underwent investigation, prosecution, trial and even sentences even when their parties were in power.
Lalu is perhaps the biggest example of this. HD Deve Gowda, the Janata Dal leader from Karnataka, was the prime minister in 1996. Lalu was president of the Janata Dal then and had played a pivotal role in making Deve Gowda the prime minister. But the CBI chargesheeted Lalu in the fodder scam cases during Deve Gowda’s tenure. Lalu also had to quit as the chief minister and go to jail when IK Gujaral – another Janata Dal leader – was the prime minister.
“It’s not that the then PMs and home ministers in office might not have favoured Lalu ji. They must have put their words of support, but they wouldn’t have crossed limits. And to be fair to Lalu ji, he too must have cooperated with the investigating agencies and the court procedures,” the officer said, alleging, “The present regime issues specific directives to the top brass of the investigating agencies about the persons to be investigated and those to be protected, they cross all limits.”
An additional director general (ADG) rank Indian Police Service officer at the Bihar police headquarters too was surprised at the manner in which the Union government had given third extension to ED director Sanjay Kumar Mishra. “Tell us, why should the government take so much interest in a particular individual for the top post? There are already officers in the queue of seniority to fill the vacancy. Why is an individual given extension after extension while deserving ones are languishing?” he asked. “The government has done this despite the amicus curiae in the Supreme Court, KV Viswanathan, objecting to it.”
There are many other examples of top leaders being subjected to investigation, prosecution and sentences when they had their governments at the Centre. Former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao, former Maharashtra chief minister AR Antulay, three-time Bihar chief minister and Congress leader Jagannath Mishra and towering tribal leader from Jharkhand Shibu Soren were a few examples.
The hallmark of the present regime is targeting its opponents through the investigating agencies and forgetting the charges against them if they join the BJP.