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When corruption trumps freedom: Fodder scam convict Lalu Prasad Yadav downplays the Emergency to target Modi govt over ‘lack of respect’ for the opposition

Fodder scam convict Lalu Prasad Yadav recently authored an opinion column wherein he contended that Emergency was not as bad as it is made out to be as the Indira Gandhi regime did not call them 'unpatriotic' and 'anti-Indians' even if it had them arbitrarily jailed.

For most upright and honest people, individual freedom would always trump rampant corruption, for the former is a cornerstone of a healthy and functioning democracy while the latter chips away at the very foundations of social structure and governmental framework, inevitably leading to an implosion.

But not for RJD patriarch Lalu Prasad Yadav, a convict in fodder scam, who recently penned an opinion column in the Indian Express that sought to undermine the criticism of the Emergency imposed by former PM Indira Gandhi in the wake of the Modi government’s spirited attempt to create awareness among the public about Congress’ dark history.

In his rambling column, co-authored with Nalin Verma, Yadav waffled about how the period of Emergency was not as bad as the Centre alleged it was, marshalling false arguments and sophistries to accuse the Modi government of presiding over an ‘undeclared Emergency’. 

Source: Indian Express

“Indira Gandhi put many of us behind bars, but neither she nor her ministers called us ‘anti-national or ‘unpatriotic’. 1975 is a stain on our democracy but let’s not forget who doesn’t respect the Opposition in 2024,” the column authored by Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nalin Verma says. 

If we were to believe Lalu, the arbitrary incarceration of opposition leaders, the ruthless trampling upon of individual rights and freedom, and the unabashed concentration of power during the Emergency under Indira Gandhi was better than the current political atmosphere where those allegedly corrupt are jailed and prosecuted. Lalu contends that since jailed opposition leaders were not labelled as ‘anti-national’, ‘unpatriotic’ and ‘respected’ by Indira Gandhi, it made the Emergency palatable as compared to the current times when probe agencies arrest and prosecute leaders accused of corruption.

For months now, in an attempt to safeguard their tainted leaders, the opposition has been objecting to action taken by probe agencies CBI and ED, which arrested several individuals and ministers, most notably former Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal for corruption charges and projecting it as an attempt by the Centre to suppress the opposition.

Opposition leaders, their cheerleaders in the media who are blind to their masters’ vices but disparage those questioning them as ‘Godi Media’ and ‘Bhakts’, and the Congress ecosystem has been studiously running a well-synchronised propaganda to deflect attention from the alleged malpractices of their comrades and downplay historical wrongs as ‘misinterpretation’ of the current regime.

Lalu Prasad Yadav’s latest opinion piece is an effort in that direction. The former Bihar CM has sought to whitewash the sins committed against the opposition leaders during the Emergency, preposterously claiming that imprisonment was better because they were not accused of being ‘anti-Indian’ and ‘unpatriotic’ by the then regime of Indira Gandhi.

Notwithstanding political chicanery to target the Modi government, there are personal reasons too for Lalu Prasad Yadav to soft-pedal the Emergency, for it was the situation that propelled him to national prominence and played a pivotal role in his subsequent domination in Bihar politics. 

Another reason that Lalu Prasad Yadav believes the Emergency was not as grave as the Centre makes it out is the political mandate the Modi government has enjoyed since 2014 which has ensured them to grant complete independence to the probe agencies to investigate and arrest political leaders, including chief ministers, for alleged involvement in corruption and money laundering.

Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren, who was recently granted bail, was arrested earlier this year in connection with an investigation of at least three cases related to benami properties and illegal mining involving Soren.

According to the Enforcement Directorate, the investigation pertains to a “huge racket of illegal change of ownership of land by the mafia” in Jharkhand. The ED officials are investigating the illegal purchase and sale of 4.55 acres of land under military control in Ranchi. 

In another case, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal was arrested by CBI earlier this week in connection with the Excise policy case. In March this year, the ED arrested Kejriwal stating that the Delhi chief minister diverted money from liquor vendors to support party activities and was dodging investigation and ignoring the agency’s summons. 

A month later, the Delhi High Court rejected Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s plea challenging his arrest by the Enforcement Directorate in the Liquor Policy scam. Making grave observations against the involvement of CM Kejriwal, the Delhi HC said the evidence shows he conspired and was actively involved in the use and proceeds of the crime.

Not just these two leaders, Lalu Prasad Yadav himself faces the prospect of prison time as he is currently out on bail on ‘medical grounds’ after being convicted by the Supreme Court for his involvement in the fodder scam.

The Fodder Scam was unearthed during the 1990s in united Bihar when Jharkhand was still a part of the state. Lalu Prasad was then the serving Chief Minister. 

It was found that excessive withdrawals had been the trend for several years. For example, between the years 1993-96, Rs. 10.5 crores were approved by the government to purchase 5,664 pigs, 40,500 hens, 1,577 goats and 995 sheep. However, the State Department of Animal Husbandry withdrew Rs 255.33 crore. After factoring in over-expenses, according to the Auditor General’s report, the total fraudulent withdrawals stood at Rs. 409.62 crores. 

The Department of Animal Husbandry had allegedly issued fake bills for large disbursements from government treasuries across districts of undivided Bihar. It should be noted that Lalu Prasad had given himself the additional charge of the state’s Minister of Finance during this time. 

While preparing the report on financial irregularities, the Auditor General’s comments drew the imagery that became synonyms for the fodder scam. He commented “Cattle were transported on scooters, police vans, oil tankers and autos”

The respective scam covered districts of present-day Jharkhand namely, Ranchi, Chaibasa, Dumka, Gumla and Jamshedpur along with Banka in Bihar. The scale of the fodder scam was estimated at Rs 950 crore (in rough value through dollar conversion, it would be approx. Rs 2,255 crore today).

For a politician with such a track record, it is not surprising that corruption trumps individual rights. The Emergency saw horrifying brutalities committed against opposition leaders, dissidents, and the general public such as forced sterilisation, but for Lalu Prasad Yadav, it was acceptable as the ruling dispensation didn’t brand the victims as ‘anti-national’ and ‘unpatriotic’ as opposed to the present regime, which finds no qualms in calling out the treasonous acts of the opposition leaders and prosecuting them for corruption. 

If Lalu Prasad Yadav thinks the Centre would allow the opposition to conduct as per its whim, disrupt parliament over trivial reasons, and not press investigations over serious charges of corruption against politicians, then he is in for a disappointment for the next 5 years at least. A flourishing democracy treats the corrupt with disrespect, the nuisance creators and the propagandists with disdain. If opposition leaders like Lalu Prasad Yadav expect the Centre to respect them, they should refrain from indulging in corrupt practices and start completing prison sentences instead of feigning ‘medical grounds’ to remain out on bail. 

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Amit Kelkar
Amit Kelkar
a Pune based IT professional with keen interest in politics

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