Former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad today suffered a major blow when a special CBI court convicted him in a 17-year-old fodder scam case of corruption that disqualifies him from Parliament and will keep him out of electoral arena for at least six years.
Also convicted was a sitting JD(U) MP from Jahanabad Jagadish Sharma, who becomes the third MP to be disqualified in the wake of a Supreme Court judgement striking down a provision in the electoral law that deferred immediate disqualification of lawmakers on conviction.
Less than a fortnight ago, former Union Health Minister and sitting Rajya Sabha member Rasheed Masood was convicted in a corruption case and faces disqualification.
Another 43 accused, including former Bihar Chief Minister Jagannath Mishra, five politicians and four IAS officers, were also convicted by the court of Pravas Kumar Singh for fraudulent withdrawal of Rs 37.7 crore from Chaibasa treasury.
The court fixed October three for pronouncement of sentence against Yadav, Mishra and others.
While BJP and JD(U), rivals of RJD in Bihar, welcomed the judgement, its ally Congress merely said the law has taken its course. JD(U) leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, a one time associate of Lalu, declined to comment on the judgement.
The RJD said they would challenge the judgement while party leaders said they would discuss the strategy to steer the party in the absence of Prasad.
Accompanied by his son Tejaswi to the court, 65-year-old Prasad declined to react to the judgement. He appeared calm while his car sped away to the Birsa Munda Central Jail located on the outskirts of Ranchi straight from the court.
The court sentenced IAS officer K Arumugam, former Bihar AHD and Labour Minister Vidya Sagar Nishad and former MLA Dhruv Bhagat and five fodder suppliers for up to three years.
Earlier, Prasad, who arrived in the court by a white Ambassador car, appeared relaxed and waved to his party supporters. He sat in the second row in the court room as the judge began reading out the judgement against him.
The RJD chief, elected from Saran in Bihar and Sharma face immediate disqualification as Lok Sabha members under a recent Supreme Court order that an MP or MLA would stand disqualified immediately if convicted by a court for crimes with punishment of two years or more and under some other laws even without jail sentence.
The July judgement of the Supreme Court struck down a provision in the electoral law that provided protection to sitting MPs and MLAs by allowing them to continue in their posts if they appeal against a lower court conviction and secure a stay of the order.
Lalu would have got protection from disqualification if the ordinance promulgated by the Centre was cleared by President Pranab Mukherjee but he is said to have some reservations and raised questions over it.
Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi compounded problems by attacking the ordinance and calling for its withdrawal, virtually sealing its fate.
RJD Spokesperson Manoj Jha said they would challenge the order in a higher court after the sentence is known.
All the 45 convicted persons were found guilty under IPC sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 420 (cheating), 467 (forgery of a valuable security/will or authority to make or transfer any valuable security/receive any money), 468 (forgery for the purpose of cheating), 477A (fraudulently destroying or defacing, or attempting to destroy or deface, or secreting a will).
They were also found guilty under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.
The court had on September 17 set today's date to pass orders in the case.