Interview: Jagadanand Singh

‘It is a wrong judgment’

Print edition : November 01, 2013

Jagadanand Singh, Rashtriya Janata Dal MP. Photo: ranjeet kumar

THE perception that the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) is in political dire straits seems to have had no impact on senior party leader and Lok Sabha member Jagadanand Singh. Without losing composure, he responded to questions on a variety of issues posed during an interview he gave Frontline. Jagadanand Singh maintained that RJD chief Lalu Prasad was a victim of a wrong judgment, and that it was certain that the party would emerge stronger from the current phase of challenges facing it. Excerpts:

The Supreme Court’s verdict incarcerating Lalu Prasad in the fodder scam has come at a time when the judiciary is active on a number of issues relating to politics. There have been judgments to disqualify incarcerated lawmakers. How do you view these developments?

There should be no confusion over the different characters of these judgments. We should not mix up the fodder scam verdict as an instance of judicial activism or overreach. It is a verdict in a normal criminal case and there is no policy overreach or transgression here. All that we in the RJD would say is that it is a wrong judgment taken on the basis of wrong interpretation of evidence and that Lalu Prasad is a victim of this faulty process. We are taking recourse to the remedial measures offered to any law-abiding citizen by the judicial system and are appealing against the verdict. That will go on. At the political level, people across Bihar are already realising the injustice done to Lalu ji and we are certain the RJD will emerge stronger.

Lalu Prasad also became one of the first victims of the judgment ordaining disqualification of convicted lawmakers.

The judgment will not raise the hackles of the RJD as a political organisation, too. I am of the view that once a citizen loses, even partially, his rights, privileges and entitlements as per law, then he should also not be allowed to be in a position of power. A convicted person has lost these entitlements partially. In fact, I would say that this law should have been there long ago. It is a limitation of our justice system that this was not there. But, having said that, I would like the judicial structure to use its discretion while deciding culpability. You cannot equate crimes such as dacoity, rape and theft with cases booked in connection with a social or political movement or agitation. Right now there seems to be no such discretion in our courts. It is the same lack of discretion that comes up when the court rules that an incarcerated person will not be allowed to contest elections. Strip him of his position for sure, but how can you deny him the right to present himself before the people for their verdict?

There is an argument, even among sections of the RJD, that the history of Indian judiciary shows a predilection towards the privileged. There is also the argument that these recent verdicts, in effect, are a continuation of this predilection.

I will not get into this argument. Each of the institutions in our constitutional structure has played its role, in spite of many limitations and deficiencies. We should not be running down one or the other institution. But, I will only say that the rich and the powerful are capable of foisting false cases on the underprivileged and that this is a regular phenomenon in rural India. I will even make bold to say that a large number of criminal cases and incarcerations on cases of violence have their origin in this misuse of the law and order machinery. The injustices in rural areas are often opposed militantly, and activists of political organisations such as the RJD are in the forefront of such movements. Naturally, criminal cases get foisted on them. That is why I say that proscribing convicted persons from contesting elections will indeed be a travesty of justice.

There is this perception that the controversial ordinance to overcome the disqualification of convicted lawmakers was originally brought to protect Lalu Prasad and that it was withdrawn because Rahul Gandhi prefers to have an alliance with the Janata Dal (United) rather than with the RJD.

I think this question should be answered by representatives of the Union government. We do not know why they brought the ordinance and why they changed their stance or what transpired before that change. Rahul Gandhi’s position and the changed stand on the ordinance is certainly not our concern. As for political alliances, we are an independent party and will take our positions on our own evaluation of political merits.

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan