The ride to Ranchi

Print edition : December 08, 2001

Laloo Prasad Yadav surrenders before the CBI Designated Court in Ranchi in connection with a fodder scam case and is remanded to judicial custody.

ON November 26, when the Central Bureau of Investigation's (CBI) Designated Court in Ranchi refused to grant Laloo Prasad Yadav bail in a case relating to the fodder scam, it was for the fifth time since 1997 that the former Bihar Chief Minister was being sent to jail. Laloo Prasad, the main accused in the multi-crore-rupee scam, involving the illegal withdrawal of funds from treasuries against the account of the State's Animal Husbandry Department, gave himself up before the CBI court after undertaking a 350-km-long road journey from Patna to Ranchi, characterised by high drama. He will remain in judicial custody for 14 days. CBI Judge H.C. Mishra also remanded Bihar's former Congress(I) Chief Minister Jagannath Mishra to judicial custody in a fodder scam case.

Laloo Prasad Yadav emerging from the CBI Designated Court in Ranchi on November 26.-RANJEET KUMAR

Before being taken to prison, Laloo Prasad appeared unshaken by the proceedings and said that he was confident of securing bail. He surrendered before the court hours after arriving in the capital of the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Jharkhand on the night of November 25. He was accompanied by 40 Bihar Ministers and a large number of emotionally charged supporters. The hearing of the bail application was conducted amid tight security. Senior criminal lawyer Ram Jethmalani appeared for Laloo Prasad. He was lodged in a special jail at Kanke in Ranchi. However, consequent to his petition filed before the CBI Special Court in Patna, the court directed the Superintendent of the Ranchi jail to produce Laloo Prasad before it for hearing in the Disproportionate Assets case, which is to start on December 6.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supremo was first sent to jail on July 30, 1997, for 134 days in connection with the fodder scam case. He was lodged at the Bihar Military Police guest house in Patna. On October 28, 1998, Laloo Prasad was detained for 73 days in a case relating to the conspiracy aspect of the fodder scam (Frontline, November 20, 1998) in the same guest house. But after the Supreme Court took exception to his being lodged there, he was shifted to the Beur jail in Patna. The third incarceration which began on April 5, 2000, in connection with a disproportionate assets case (Frontline, April 28, 2000) lasted for 11 days. After his surrender together with wife Rabri Devi, the Bihar Chief Minister, he was sent to Beur Jail. Rabri Devi was granted bail. On November 28, 2000, Laloo Prasad was imprisoned for the fourth time for a day in the Beur jail. This time the charges related to the conspiracy angle cases in the fodder scam.

On November 5 the apex court directed Laloo and Mishra to surrender before the CBI court in Ranchi. The court gave this direction after vacating stay orders on arrest warrants that had been pending against them.

Laloo Prasad arrived in Ranchi with fanfare, travelling on a motorised chariot which he called Sadbhavna Rath. The journey was more than anything a political show. The RJD supremo's entourage consisted of hundreds of horses, camels, elephants and a music band. Supporters presented him with a sword as he travelled in his air-conditioned rath, which was escorted by a kilometres-long cavalcade. Party workers chanted slogans such as: "Laloo Yadav mat ghabrana, tere peechee sara zamana ( Don't worry Laloo Yadav, the entire people are behind you)." Laloo Prasad stopped en route at Biharsharif to offer chaddar (a length of holy cloth) at the tomb of the Sufi saint Makhdoom Baba. The cavalcade virtually laid siege to the highway leading to Ranchi.

On the way Laloo Prasad addressed a series of meetings and in his speeches attacked Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha and Defence Minister George Fernandes. "The BJP government at the Centre has made a move to send me to a Jharkhand jail because I got Advani arrested on his way to demolish the Babri mosque in 1990 and put him behind bars," he said. He avoided making any harsh remarks against Jharkhand Chief Minister Babulal Marandi; obviously in the event of the CBI court denying him bail and sending him to a Jharkhand jail, he would have required Marandi's help.

RJD workers in Jharkhand believe that Laloo Prasad's trial in Jharkhand would benefit the party in the new State. "Laloo Prasad Yadav will get a sympathetic response from political parties other than the BJP, and this will lead to a new equation in the political arena. After all, the majority of the people of Jharkhand belong to the backward classes," Jharkhand RJD general secretary Radhe Prasad Yadav argued.

On November 5, a three-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Justices K.T. Thomas, S.S.M. Quadri and U.C. Banerjee, directed Laloo Prasad and Jagannath Mishra to surrender before the CBI court in Ranchi on November 26 as all the 36 cases relating to the fodder scam had been shifted to courts in Jharkhand. Earlier, the Patna High Court had dismissed a petition from the CBI seeking the transfer of the cases to Jharkhand. The CBI then filed a special leave petition against the ruling in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court observed that the 36 cases, in respect of which the CBI had filed charge-sheets, involved fraudulent withdrawals of approximately Rs.722 crores from treasuries that were situated in places that subsequently became part of the Jharkhand State. The Bench said: "We have no doubt that when the offence is under Section 13(1) or Section 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, the sole determinative factor regarding the court having jurisdiction is the place where the offence was committed."

Laloo Prasad's counsel Kapil Sibal appealed to the court to grant his client a blanket bail, but the Bench rejected the plea. It said that the petitioner could move the Special Court in Ranchi for bail after surrendering there.

Laloo Prasad was left with no option but to surrender before the CBI court in Ranchi. He told Frontline: "I have faith in the judiciary and I hope justice will be done in the Ranchi court. I will definitely surrender before the court and seek for bail since I have already served six months' imprisonment in a similar case."

Laloo Prasad's imprisonment has provided his opponents, particularly the dissidents in the party, an opportunity to come together against his "autocratic style of functioning". Only six months ago the RJD was rocked by a revolt led by Laloo Prasad's one-time aide, Ranjan Yadav. Also, the BJP and its ally, the Samata Party, are reportedly preparing to step up their campaign to topple the Rabri Devi government.

According to sources in the RJD, before leaving for Ranchi Laloo Prasad had formed a "team of his trusted lieutenants" to take care of the running of the government and the party. In the past, while in prison, he was provided with special comforts and facilities and he could run the administration from there. This time too efforts are on in this direction.

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