The conviction of RJD leader Lalu Prasad by a CBI special court in the second of the six fodder scam cases against him was not unexpected. The case relating to the withdrawal of Rs 84.5 lakh on false grounds from the Deogarh treasury in Jharkhand was similar to the first case, in which Lalu was convicted and sentenced to five years' imprisonment in 2013. The withdrawals of money, altogether running into over Rs 900 crore, on the pretext of payments for fodder, took place in the 1990s when Lalu was the chief minister of Bihar. The cases have haunted him ever since. Politicians are not usually convicted for corruption or other crimes and so the odd conviction that happens is to be welcomed. But even after two decades of investigation and trial, only two cases have come to a conclusion. Others will take longer. The delay is not special to the fodder scam cases, but it needs to be reiterated that the long delays in the delivery of justice mean its denial.
The sentence is yet to be pronounced, but Lalu has been taken to jail. He was sentenced to a five-year term in the first case, but has got bail. It is unlikely that he will get bail in the second case, which will be considered a repeat offence. The conviction has made him ineligible to contest elections. But Lalu's political influence did not wane with his conviction, and his alliance with Nitish Kumar's JD(U) and the Congress beat the BJP in Bihar in 2015. Nitish parted ways with Lalu in 2016, on issues connected with corruption charges involving the latter's son and wife, but the RJD continues to be the largest party in the state assembly. It is unlikely that Lalu's support base in the state will be dented by the second conviction. Popular sympathy might even make him stronger. It is ironical that most politicians continue to find favour with their followers and the voters even when they are found guilty of crimes. It is unfortunate, but it is the reality of politics based on personality, caste and similar considerations.
While Lalu's following may not be affected in Bihar, and the members of his family, including his sons and wife, may push his politics in the state, his presence is bound to be missed in any anti-BJP line-up that might emerge at the national level. Lalu has always been a pillar of secular politics and has never compromised with the BJP. But again, a Lalu in jail may not mean the end of his politics at any level.