Why Can’t Lalu Play Badminton When on Bail?
“Is playing badminton an offence? Are eating, walking and meeting people a crime? Should an ailing person be kept in confinement and not allowed to do anything,” Tejashwi Yadav asked, reacting to the Central Bureau of Investigation’s arguments against Lalu Prasad Yadav in the Supreme Court.
The CBI has petitioned the Supreme Court to cancel the bail granted to the Rashtriya Janata Dal president by the Jharkhand High Court in connection with the fodder scam cases. The investigating agency’s counsel cited Lalu’s video playing badminton going viral on social media.
On 23 August, the CBI counsel reportedly argued that Lalu got bail on health grounds, so playing badminton showed he is in good health. He urged the apex court to cancel his bail. The court deferred the matter till 17 October.
“He (Lalu) played only a shot or two and after that he watched the children playing,” Tejashwi, who is Bihar Deputy Chief Minister and Lalu’s son, said. He added, “Court-related issues should be discussed in the court.”
It can be said Tejashwi’s remarks are about his father are an emotional response, but even lawyers at the Jharkhand High Court, which granted Lalu bail on 22 April 2022, and also those practising at the Patna High Court were taken aback by the CBI’s plea against RJD boss Lalu.
“The Supreme Court has not recorded the CBI’s flimsy arguments. How can a lawyer speak like this in court? The judges might cancel the lawyer’s license to practice if he happened to repeat such an argument in the court,” says Prabhat Kumar, Lalu’s counsel, who argued on his behalf in the Jharkhand High Court in April 2022.
Bail on Merit
The lawyers were most surprised that the CBI wants to cancel Lalu Prasad Yadav’s bail on health grounds, among others.
“Lalu has secured bail purely on merits of the case. The Jharkhand High Court granted him bail under section 439 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), considering that he had spent 42 months, that was more than half of his sentence in the cases, under section 436A of the CrPC,” says senior Patna High Court lawyer Dev Prakash.
Lawyers argue that the Supreme Court has allowed Lalu’s bail after he had completed half his sentence in prison and in the context of the “nature of the cases” against him. “The Jharkhand High Court rejected Lalu’s bail applications twice when the CBI pleaded that he had not completed half his sentence. It granted him bail only after it was fully satisfied that half his term was over.”
Additional Solicitor General SV Raju, appearing for the CBI, submitted that the Jharkhand High Court order granting bail to the RJD chief was “bad in law” and “erroneous”. But senior advocate Kapil Sibal, arguing on behalf of Lalu, said, “Lalu has spent 42 months behind bars and, as such, there is no reason whatsoever to cancel his bail.”
BJP’s Nemesis Lalu
When asked about the 23 August hearing, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said, “Becharey ko nahak tang kar raha hain—They [the BJP and central investigating agencies] are unnecessarily troubling him.” He added, “Those in power at the Centre are not sparing any [political opponents]. They are troubling all,” Nitish said. He said without naming the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi that they are scared of India, the opposition grouping Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance, which has come together with an aim to contest the BJP in the 2024 election.
In fact, the RJD supremo has been the nemesis of the BJP for well over 30 years. His forceful stand on the Mandal Commission report and belligerence against the Lal Krishna Advani-led BJP in the 1990s have become a part of the folklore in the Hindi heartland. His RJD—the single largest party in the Bihar Assembly with 80 MLAs—is a key INDIA component. Lalu attended its Patna and Bengaluru meetings and is scheduled to attend the next one in Mumbai on 31 October and 1 September.
The RJD chief has relentlessly countered the BJP and repeatedly predicted the defeat of the Modi regime in the 2024 polls.
A Ranchi lower court convicted Lalu in the so-called fodder scam cases for in 2013 for five years and sent him to jail. The BJP did stupendously well in Bihar in the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
But in 2015, Lalu was released on bail and was instrumental to the formation of the opposition Mahagathbandhan or Grand Alliance with Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), which had parted ways with the BJP, and the Congress party. The Mahagathbandhan won 178 seats against the BJP’s 53 in the 2015 Assembly election in Bihar. It was a resounding blow to the Modi factor in a state where the BJP and its allies had won 32 of 40 Lok Sabha seats in 2014.
The BJP probably understands that the Lalu-Nitish combination in Bihar is too powerful for it to take on. Pollsters have also watched Lalu outwit Modi in the 2014 election campaign. The RJD chief pulled far more crowds and swayed the masses in his favour with far more alacrity than Modi or other BJP leaders.
The BJP was seen to have unleashed the CBI and Enforcement Directorate to ensure Lalu did not get bail during election campaigns. Following his conviction in the fodder scam cases, Lalu went to jail in 2017 for around four years. The CBI opposed all his bail petitions in the High Court and Supreme Court. Lalu was in jail during the 2019 Lok Sabha election and the 2020 Bihar Assembly election.
His RJD did not win any seats in 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, with Nitish’s JDU, won 39 seats in those polls. But the RJD did exceptionally well in the 2020 Assembly election as Tejashwi learned the ropes in his father’s absence and campaigned powerfully. The RJD emerged the single-largest party, winning 78 seats in 2020.
Now with Lalu joining Tejaswhi again, and his experienced friend and INDIA alliance architect Nitish Kumar also with them, the BJP is in troubled waters in Bihar, which has 40 Lok Sabha seats.
The author is a senior journalist, media educator, and researcher in folklore. The views are personal.
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