The verdict handed out to former Bihar chief minister and the architect of the multi-crore fodder scam, Lalu Prasad Yadav, pronouncing him guilty of embezzlement, is no doubt a landmark judgement, which must be commended and replicated in the other cases of corruption against a number of political leaders and members of Parliament pending either in the labyrinthine corridors of the CBI or the courts. While the fodder scam (which surfaced during Yadav’s tenure as Bihar CM and which amounted to pilfering of funds worth Rs 9.5 billion in the late 1990s in spurious schemes involving fabrication of ‘vast herds of fictitious livestock for which fodder, medicines and animal husbandry equipments were apparently procured’) is symbolic of the entrenched culture of corruption that has since not just taken root in India but has grown enormous branches penetrating deep and wide into the political matrix, it is but the tip of the iceberg that is structural corruption in India. Lalu’s conviction is already 17 years too late and doesn’t even begin to address the systemic rot that is eating away the Indian political machinery at its core. Hence, the judgement holding him guilty and effectively disqualifying him as a member of Parliament, according to the recent Supreme Court order, is merely the initial throes of a gigantic mechanism that is needed to purge the system of the all-pervasive muck polluting the political structure in this country. Seen in this light, the 66-year-old Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief, who would possibly serve a four-year jail sentence in the wake of the verdict, and whose active political career, under all likelihood, stands terminated, is merely the ‘aam aadmi’ of the republic of scamsters, whose conviction closes the door on a peculiar brand of old school politics that ran more on the ground-level popularity and less on telegenic hysterics of utterly corrupt but polished politicians.
When read against the backdrop of, on the one hand, the union cabinet clearing an extremely controversial ordinance seeking to reverse the apex court order to disbar convicted MPs and MLAs from carrying on with their career in politics, and, on the other, the CBI shutting down corruption probes against high-profile politicians or giving them a clean chit in the same, Lalu Prasad’s conviction seems more the exception than the norm. Exempting politicians and sitting MPs such as Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati, Pawan Bansal and even ministers in the union cabinet such as Sushilkumar Shinde from their respective criminal cases in an environment that is simmering with pre-election strategies, has already set a very unhappy precedent, with the time required to brush off the allegations of criminality directly proportional to the stature of the politician involved. Clearly, the judgement on Lalu has much to do with the fact that Congress is toying with the idea of allying with Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United) on the common plank of secularism, and can afford to shake off the RJD supremo for the 2014 general elections. Moreover, that the fodder scam only amounted to a paltry Rs 9.5 billion is further proof that convicting Lalu at this juncture wouldn’t hurt the UPA dispensation, and would appear as if the government is coming down hard on the menace of corruption. Clearly, unless the perpetrators of mammoth scams such as 2G, Coalgate or Choppergate, each worth thousands of crores of losses to the public exchequer, are also brought to book, the Lalu verdict is bound to become an historical anomaly of sort.