The Fodder Scam Verdict : Lessons and Challenges

The conviction of Lalu Prasad Yadav, Jagannath Mishra and Jagdish Sharma in the Rs 950-crore fodder scam by a special CBI court in Ranchi is now likely to result in the first case of disqualification in the wake of the Supreme Court’s July 10 verdict that calls for automatic and immediate post-conviction disqualification of any member of state legislature or Parliament. The government had in fact brought an ordinance to counter the Supreme Court judgement and abort the threat of such disqualification. However much Rahul Gandhi may now dismiss the ordinance as ‘complete nonsense’ and the BJP may oppose and ridicule it in public, the fact remains that the ordinance was mulled by none other than Rahul’s own government and endorsed by all parties including the BJP!

The scam-ridden Indian polity will surely now try to use the fodder scam example to seek some legitimacy and paper over the current crop of 21st century scams that are immensely bigger than the Bofors scam of the 1980s or the fodder scam of the 1990s. This is where the people of India will have to intervene and insist on matching punishment for the architects and managers of scams like the 2G and coalgate ones which have caused far bigger loss to the national exchequer. If Jagannath Mishra and Lalu Prasad are held responsible for having presided over the fodder scam, there is no way Manmohan Singh can escape his culpability for the mega scams that have become the trademarks of his government.

While Lalu Prasad and his party RJD are most centrally identified with the fodder scam, a closer look at the anatomy and trajectory of the scam reveals a whole range of accomplices cutting across social and political divisions. The BJP and many anti-Mandal ideologues would like us to believe that politics was ‘cleaner’ in the pre-Mandal days of elitist and upper-caste domination in politics and that the proliferation of scams is a post-Mandal phenomenon with SC/ST/OBC leaders and ministers showing a greater proclivity for corruption. The fodder scam clearly refutes this notion and exposes how the baton of corrupt governance actually passed hands from the days of Jagannath Mishra to the era of Lalu Prasad.

If corruption has acquired alarming proportions in the last two decades, it is clearly a fall-out of the neoliberal policy package of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation, and the closer nexus between corporate houses, ministers and top bureaucrats that characterises governance in this neoliberal era.

The fodder scam narrative is also a great political leveller where leaders of RJD and JD(U) and Congress and BJP are all exposed as members of the same corrupt club. The CBI of course will have to explain why it spared leaders like Nitish Kumar, Shivanand Tiwari and Lallan Singh who all are mentioned as recipients of fodder scam cash in the testimonies of senior officials of the animal husbandry department. Is it because during the crucial early years of the CBI probe the NDA was in power with Advani as the Union Home Minister and all these leaders were in the same coalition? And incidentally, by the time we got the current verdict Nitish Kumar has switched over from his protracted alliance with the BJP to growing political bonhomie with the Congress!

It remains to be seen how the RJD faces the current blow. In the late 1990s when Lalu Prasad had to go to jail, he chose Rabri Devi as his successor. Today he has no chief ministership to protect, what is at stake is the party presidency. When the RJD was in power the party had fallen in line and accepted the family-centric succession. Today the RJD is in a much weaker shape – Lalu Prasad himself has been reduced to a faded shadow of his former self and his politics of survival with the blessing of the Congress in Delhi and the feudal forces in Bihar has reached a dead end. It therefore remains to be seen how the socio-political constellation that passes in the name of the party called RJD responds to the present juncture, especially if Lalu Prasad once again falls back on the family line.

Rabri Devi has reportedly compared the present juncture of the RJD to the Congress being run by Sonia and her son. But if the culture of dynastic succession is no longer able to arrest the decline of the Congress, the RJD should obviously think again!

To conclude, the law catching up with a few corruption cases is of course a welcome development, not because it will automatically serve as a deterrent but because it will serve as an inspiration for the ongoing people’s struggle against corruption, corporate plunder and the corporate-politician nexus that increasingly characterises contemporary bourgeois politics and governance. But nobody will miss the contrast that while a few leaders are being convicted in an old corruption case, those convicted in cases of massacres of Bihar’s rural poor are being acquitted by the dozen and the masterminds of communal carnages and fake encounters are bidding for power at the Centre and whipping up communal frenzy with impunity. And to buy the BJP’s support for pro-corporate pro-FDI legislations, the Congress simply dumped the Bill against Communal Violence.

The fodder scam verdict should therefore galvanise the people in a more vigorous and determined campaign not only against corrupt politicians and bureaucrats but also against the perpetrators and masterminds of communal and caste violence. The law must deal equally sternly with the looters of national exchequer and enemies of the rights of minority communities, oppressed castes and women.

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