– V.N. Balakrishna | October 07, 2013
Ahmedabad | A brief interesting interlude occurred in 2005 when Ranchi High Court was hearing RJD president Lalu Prasad’s fodder case being prosecuted by the then joint Director (East), CBI UN Biswas. A boastful Lalu had asked Biswas rhetorically a day before his appearance at the court if the CBI had any evidence to prosecute him.
Next day in front of TV cameras rolling Biswas came to court bringing over 20 truckloads of documents. It could have made a good occasion for hilarity but for the magnitude of the crime never seen or heard before in this country. The very fact that the evidence comprised 20 truckloads can be sufficient to make one sit up and ponder to the extent of loot under the aegis of a chief minister who made most of his career trumpeting himself as savior of Dalits, Muslims and women.
In the massive Rs 950 crore fodder scam Lalu’s involvement was not limited to withdrawing Rs 37.7 crore fraudulently from the Chaibasa treasury. He still faces judicial scrutiny involving two more embezzlement cases worth nearly Rs 143 crore. What became infamous as “chara ghotala” was brazen robbery involving false purchases of feed, medicine and equipment on a scale never seen before. It is hard to believe that among the fantastic expenses the Bihar mafia had shown in the books were Rs 15 lakh worth of mustard oil for polishing horns of buffaloes and pigs — yes, in Lalu’s Wonder Raj even pigs were sporting horns — and several crores for transporting cattle on oil tankers, police vans, autorickshaws and scooters — how scooters could carry cattle is still a subject of esoteric analysis.
Corruption in India is a major issue affecting the lackadaisical economy and in keeping poor entrenched in timeless poverty. Harassed Indians had given up hope seeing corrupt politicians brought to book. It was as if the Constitution protected them from harassment. There would have been barely a few odd optimists in the country who would have thought Lalu could be punished after 17 long years. Today Lalu with five-year jail term is also disqualified from contesting election for six years after his jail term ends.
The scam had its origins in small-scale embezzlement by some government employees submitting false expense reports, growing in magnitude until a full-fledged Bihar mafia took over. Jagannath Mishra, chief minister in mid-1970s, was one of the first to be accused while the Animal Husbandry scam rolled on for another 20 years even as Lalu came to power in 1990 before being ejected in 1997.
A man who could manipulate human emotions interestingly managed to turnaround Indian Railways finances and made bookworms from IIMs, Harvard and Wharton rushing in to study Lalu’s skills in bookkeeping. But the same skills proved infructuous when the court was no mood to take his mega scam lightly.
The verdict has not come a day too soon as the grim mood of the country is against damning corruption. Though astronomical sums have been stolen never to return to the exchequer yet the conviction is a landmark in India’s shady politics as it puts Corruption Mafia on notice as over 500 fodder scamsters have been punished.