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Tuesday, June 24 1997

Laloo charged, stay on arrest declined

ENS & AGENCIES

PATNA, June 23: It was time of reckoning for Bihar's mercurial Chief Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav. He entered the history book by achieving the dubious distinction of becoming the nation's first Chief Minister to be charge-sheeted in a criminal case while in office. Fifty-five others - some of them senior politicians and officers of the Indian Administrative Service - joined him in the dock as the Central Bureau of Investigation finally filed the much-awaited charge-sheets in the Rs 900-and-odd-crore fodder scam.

As if this was not enough, the Designated Court of the CBI today refused to grant an interim stay on any action, including arrest, against the Chief Minister by the agency and, instead, reserved its order on his anticipatory bail petition.

However, a defiant Laloo held his ground, refusing to quit unless proved guilty. ``Mere submission of the charge-sheet does not prove anyone guilty,'' the Chief Minister told reporters soon after the CBI filed the 50-page charge-sheet with annexures accounting for another 150 pages in the designated court.

Those chargesheeted besides the Chief Minister include former Union Minister Chandradeo Prasad Verma, former chief minister Jagannath Mishra, two of Laloo's Cabinet colleagues, Bhola Ram Toofani and Vidya Sagar Nishad, three MLAs R K Rana (Janata Dal), Jagdish Sharma (Congress) and Dhruv Bhagat (BJP), IAS officers Beck Julius, Mahesh Prasad, K Arumugam, Sajal Chakraborty and Phool Chand Singh (retd).

Barring Chakraborty, who is untraceable since a recent raid on his house, the other IAS officers and the three MLAs are already in custody.When Special Judge S K Lal refused to grant stay on Laloo's arrest while the order for anticipatory bail was pending before the court anticipation ran high in political circles.

However, CBI's Joint Director (East) U N Biswas preferred to be equivocal on the issue. When asked whether the agency would arrest Laloo, he said, ``In the eyes of law, he is not the Chief Minister but an accused. But I cannot say whether and when he will be arrested.''

He claimed that the probe in the fodder scam was continuing at a fast pace and hoped that more charge-sheets would be filed in other cases of the scam soon.

The beleaguered Chief Minister, on his part, kept a brave, if worried, profile. Asked if he anticipated raids on his residence, his reply was characteristic: ``I am waiting for them. Let them come.''

On the United Front constituents' demand for his resignation citing precedents, Laloo retorted, ``What precedents? I do not need to borrow wisdom from others.''

The case -- RC 20 (A/96) -- was registered on April 27, 1996, by the CBI on the orders of the Supreme Court and the Patna High Court. It involved fraudulent withdrawals to the tune of around Rs 37 crore during 1994-95 from the Chaibasa treasury on the basis of fake bills from suppliers and fake supply orders.

Earlier P N Pandey, counsel for the Chief Minister, while making his submissions, told the designated court that Yadav had always cooperated with the investigation agency at every front. He said his client had fallen prey to the inner party bickerings in the Janata Dal.

Making a forceful plea for granting anticipatory bail, the counsel argued that it takes ``one lifetime to complete a trial.'' ``If Yadav is found innocent then who will be responsible,'' he asked. But Judge Lal reserved his order on the bail plea.

Meanwhile, two more bail applications were filed in the court today . Bihar Labour Minister Vidya Sagar Nishad filed an anticipatory bail while former IAS officer Phoolchand Singh, at present under judicial custody, filed a regular bail petition. Hearing of both the cases will be taken up tomorrow.

While the Special Court gave no time frame with regard to Laloo's bail plea, it will deliver its verdict on in Mishra's case and on the regular bail petition Janata Dal Legislator R K Rana tomorrow.

It is tempting to dismiss Laloo Yadav's resolve to `stick to the chair till hanged' as sheer bluster and bamboozling which has enabled the Bihar Chief Minister to dodge earlier crises. There is a qualitative and quantitative difference in the challenge Laloo faces today.

It is not only the upper-caste dominated BJP which plans to dethrone him with the help of his one-time fellow travellers now in the Samata Party.

Also ganged up against him this time are the Communists, the ultra-Left in Bihar, a section of Laloo's own Janata Dal and Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party. This indicates that the forces of social justice wedded to the Mandal brand of politics are in disarray in Bihar as elsewhere in the country.

The state of affairs in Janata Dal in Bihar can not be explained away merely in terms of a clash of personalities, as a Sharad Yadav vs Laloo Yadav or Laloo vs Mulayam contest. It is the logical end-product of two contradictory roles played by Laloo in mobilising mass support to snatch political power from the upper-caste ruling elite in Bihar.

Like Bollywood's Sageena Mahata, Laloo did succeed in projecting the militant assertion of the Yadava pride as restoration of the self-respect of other middle and lower castes. But while controlling the huge engine of State power from a buffalo-back, he did little to advance their political and economic interests.

That Laloo's co-accused in the fodder scam include the likes of former Chief Minister Jagannath Mishra and BJP legislator Druva Bhagat only confirms that Laloo's Mandal politics is essentially an elitist version of social justice.

While establishing the hegemony of the small capitalist farmer class represented by neo-rich cultivating castes like Yadavs, Kurmis and Koeries, Laloo maintained a continuum with the political interests of the ruling classes, specially the big business interests.

The control over the resources of the State may have shifted from the upper-castes to the middle-castes led by Yadavs, but these resources were used primarily to promote the economic interests of the big and middle-class farmers, at the cost of the Dalits and extremely Backward Castes who continued to reel under an exploitative feudal system.

It is not strange in this context that the Ranbir Sena in Bihar, a militant outfit dominated by Bhumihars -- who along with the Rajputs, Kayasthas and Brahmins constitute upper-castes in Bihar has received support from both Laloo's Janata Dal and the BJP during a series of recent `punitive actions' against Dalits in central Bihar.

Laloo's police has not only colluded with Bihar's upper-caste private armies, it also turned a blind eye whenever the Yadav and Muslim criminal-politicians patronised by Laloo resorted to terror tactics to eliminate militant Dalits and their leaders, like former JNU student leader Chandreshekhar.

In Haryana and to some extent in Uttar Pradesh, the Kulaks have made a determined bid to capture political power and partly succeeded. In Bihar, where the capitalist formation of agriculture is comparatively at a low key, it is the feudal upper stratum of middle castes rather than Kulaks who dominate the rural landscape. (See chart).

In Bihar, the Upper Castes mainly comprise landowning groups of big landlords and rich peasants. The main constituents of the upper-middle castes are landowning classes with agricultural holdings up to five acres. The poor peasantry and the landless are drawn mainly from the lower-middle castes and the Schedules Castes.

Laloo's dismal record on the land reforms question, shows that though he mobilised mass support from all middle castes and Dalits in the name of dislodging the upper-castes from power, he used this power to protest the interests of middle peasantry which clashed with those of the landless and the poor peasants.

Even the upper-caste landowning groups found tacit support from the Laloo-led social justice forces whenever the landless and the poor peasantry rose to fight for effective implementation of Bihar's grossly inadequate land reform legislation or enforcement of pro-worker laws like the Minimum Wages Act.

The self-limiting role of Laloo's Mandal politics was bound to generate confusion and frustration among constituents of his political formation. The Koeris and Kurmis of Central Bihar broke away first and decided to join hands with the BJP not because of their sudden love for Lord Rama. Unhappy with Laloo's Yadavised style of governance, members of these upwardly mobile, wannabe castes found they had more in common with the landowning upper-castes.

The increasing political support won by ultra-left groups like the MCC and CPI(ML) and the Party Unity in Central and east Bihar parts poses another type of challenge to Laloo's hegemony. Now that a section of Janata Dal, the Communists and other social justice outfits like the Samajwadi Party are trying to step in after the fall of Laloo, his battle for survival has become all the more difficult.

It would be premature, however, to write Laloo's obituary. The Yadavs and the Muslims are, by and large, still willing to stand by him and are unlikely to be swayed by charges of corruption against him because they were the main beneficiaries under the Laloo Raj.

As for other middle castes and Scheduled Castes, even though they may have no reason to love Laloo, the prospect of an upper-caste backlash could force them to tail behind him at the eleventh hour. As a Koeri villager of Central Bihar puts it, ``Laloo may be corrupt and self-seeking. But we would suffer him rather than reverting back to the old exploitative system under the upper-castes.''

That Laloo has pilfered the vast resources of the State meant for their development hardly concerns the poor Dalits and other extremely Backward Castes in Bihar, because they never had a share in the development process in the past.

On the other hand, Laloo's rhetorical espousal of their self-respect has given them a new social and cultural status for the first time.`Samman' and `Izzat' are the two key-words in the new political vocabulary of these deprived castes. And it is likely to control their political behaviour in the foreseeable future, especially because there is no indication of a class consciousness replacing the caste consciousness in the feudal Bihar.

Copyright © 1997 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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