Politicians in India like to dramatize their detention by the police or judicial imprisonment. Following her Emergency rule and defeat at the 1977 general election, Indira Gandhi, the former Prime Minister, also resisted arrest when the police officials arrived at her residence with the required warrant. The mobs gathered and turned her custody into a political rally.
Lalu Yadav and his lackeys have taken a leaf out of Indira’s playbook and successfully shaped each one of his detention, court appearance or imprisonment into a formidable show of public excitement. In 1990’s, when Lalu was arrested for the first time and taken to the detention in connection with the fodder scam, recall who were leading the protesters and trying to throw themselves before the car carrying Lalu -- Sadhu and Subhash Yadav -- the two brothers of Rabri Devi. Once the trusted lieutenants of Lalu, they were later kicked out of the party as a result of inner family power struggle.
The purpose behind making such arrests into a big show is to whitewash the crime and to win over the confidence of the constituencies, mainly the castes. The objective is also to put psychological pressure on the judiciary, investigative/law enforcing agencies indirectly warning them of the dangerous consequences. This kind of protest which can easily become violent and pyromaniac is also noticed when police or administrative action is taken against the heads of certain cults or so-called faiths.
Lalu has also been running his political party, RJD, as a family enterprise, a cult or as a faith-group. At times, he has also been successful in intimidating the administration representing the mighty State authority. For example, even though apprehended in economic offence and criminal conspiracy, Lalu was housed in a comfortable guest house of the Bihar Military Police.
On 12 December 1997, after 135 days in judicial custody, Lalu was released on bail and the next year, on 28 October 1998, when he was arrested again in connection with the fodder scam, he was kept at the same guest house. Later, he was moved to Beur jail at Patna following the directive of the Supreme Court.
In the course of his several trips to the jail, Lalu had gotten used to a treatment usually extended to a VIP outside the jail system. The jail authorities were only too willing or scared to oblige. Just as a fellow jailed criminal party-man of Lalu, Mohammad Shahabuddin, was receiving super amenities inside the Siwan jail, Lalu too got every facility during his incarceration. Provision of extra comforts in jails is possible either through political patronage or widespread corruption within the jail system.
This time around in 2018, Lalu did not have stark preferential treatment meted out to him. The judge recommended him an open jail in Hazaribagh where he would serve the sentence and the cattle. However, Lalu would like to stay as a prisoner in Ranchi Birsa Munda jail because he had to undergo trials in at least three more cases. He did complain against food, limited access to people and temperature in the jail cell. The way the jail administration is twisted, he would most likely be treated differently than others with the same amount of crime.
For the consolation of Lalu and his clan, it’s worthwhile to mention that in a democratic system where the rule of law is given supreme value, politicians serving as public officials frequently go to prison on charges of fraudulent financial conduct or for lying under oath.
In the USA, at one time, four of the seven Governors of the state of Illinois in succession went to jail on charges ranging from bank forgery to bribery. In the case of Otto Kerner (1961-68), he had resigned his Governorship before his term was up to become a judge. Then he was convicted on bribery charges that related to his tenure as Governor. He was punished with a three-year prison sentence.
To take another example, Dan Rostenkowski, a powerful Democratic member of the Congress from Illinois and Chair of the Ways and Means committee was charged, fined and sentenced to 17 months in prison. In 1994, he was found using the government mail funds for his own personal purposes. It didn’t matter to the justice system or to the people of Illinois that Dan Rostenkowski had brought in billions of dollars for projects in Chicago or to the state of Illinois.
In all such cases, the guilty accepted the judicial verdict, expressed their remorse and served out the sentences. Lalu would have none of those. He and his spokespersons still assert he was a target of political conspiracy and caste vendetta.
At the same time, a jail was a pious place for him because his God Krishna, a Yadav, was born there. He recommended every individual to have at least one stint in jail. His social and political order meant displacement of all upper castes by the backward castes from positions of authority. The irony is the poor, semi-literate and deprived followers of Lalu believe him.
Lalu would have liked to manipulate the system and claim all the privileges the elite castes have been enjoying. Indira and Sonia, therefore, became his role models, not Gandhi, Lohia or Jayaprakash. If he had been a follower of Gandhi and Jayaprakash, he would have talked about class and caste ‘cooperation’ rather than ‘conflict.’ And, about development with fairness to all.
Now, people of Bihar including Lalu’s clan have to be convinced that charges against Lalu and a host of others were brought under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code Section 420 and 120 (B) that related to cheating and criminal conspiracy. They have also been punished under section 13 (2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act (1988). Laws, after all, can’t be twisted at will.
Also, sitting in the isolation of his jail chamber, Lalu must be wondering how different the day of Makar Sankranti was this year. Only last year (2017), on this day, Lalu had invited Nitish to his house, treated him to dahi-chura and put ‘dahi tilak’ on his forehead to ‘purify’ and make sure everything was well within the alliance, ‘Mahagathbandhan.”
Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.
Dr. Prasad administers a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.