Lalu Prasad’s sons Tejashwi and Tej Pratap reacted to their father’s sentencing with restraint, predicting that their party would emerge stronger from the crisis. Senior leaders of the RJD, including former MPs Shivanand Tiwari and Jagdanand Singh, and party lawmakers, held a meeting in Patna to discuss strategy, at which Tejashwi, now Leader of Opposition in the Bihar House, took the lead.
“Had Lalu Prasad joined hands with the BJP, he would have got the honour of Raja Harishchandra,” Tejashwi said. “Nitish Kumar had joined hands with my father after he was convicted in a fodder scam case. But Nitishji left us for the BJP. Now, both BJP and Nitish Kumar are scheming against us.” Tejashwi did not comment on the court’s order.
A tweet along similar lines went out from Lalu’s handle soon after the sentencing: “Rather than practising BJP’s Simple Rule — “Follow us or We will Fix you”. I will die happily fixing myself for Social justice, harmony & equality.” Since he was sent to jail, the RJD chief’s Twitter handle has been run by his party.
After the meeting of RJD leaders, Tejashwi told reporters: “It was a historic meeting. Everytime Lalu Prasad has gone to jail, the party has emerged stronger. I have memories of my father fighting it out every time he faced such a situation. Lalu Prasad is a mass leader, and is discussed the most, whether he is in Patna or outside. For the last few days, he has been the only topic of discussion. This shows his political mass base and the RJD’s relevance in Bihar and national politics. Lalu Prasad is not the name of a person, he is an ideology.”
In a letter to party workers posted on Twitter, Lalu recalled his struggle during the JP movement, and his stopping of L K Advani’s Ram Rath in 1990. “…The CBI has been set after me… the Army was sent to arrest me (in 1997), a conspiracy was hatched to break the morale of my sons by framing them in cases… The Grand Alliance government was toppled… You know why? Because I can take them on with your love and support…”
Tejashwi said: “They want to finish the RJD, but Lalu Prasad has made it clear that he will not be cowed down under any circumstances… I want to know why the Srijan scam is not being discussed. This, too, is a case of withdrawal from the treasury. The fodder scam dated back to 1977, when my father was not in power. But in the Rs 1,800 crore Srijan scam, it was Nitish Kumar who was chief minister and Sushil Kumar Modi who was deputy CM when the illegal withdrawals started from Bhagalpur treasury. Why are they not named?”
The RJD, Tejashwi said, had never lost its mass base. “We have discussed Lalu Prasad’s message to party workers. We have been getting reactions from the block level. We have started preparing for 2019 elections,” he said.
Tej Pratap said: “We will take out a yatra to interact with our people after January 14. We are focussed on our policies and programmes.” As Tej Pratap, who has in the past demonstrated a volatile temperament, spoke to reporters, a group of his supporters raised slogans, but RJD supporters by and large remained calm. Sources said Tej Pratap had been advised not to lose his cool, because that would give the RJD’s opponents a reason to attack the party. Security has been stepped up at JD(U) and BJP offices in Patna.
The Congress said Lalu deserved bail. The final word on his culpability is yet to come, the party argued, and the RJD chief’s long record of public and political life could not be discounted.
“The court’s decision is part of the legal process that allows Lalu to appeal against the verdict and to seek bail. According to the established legal principle, Lalu deserves to be released on bail since bail is the rule and jail is the exception consistent with our libertarian Constitution. Notwithstanding the verdict of the trial court, his long record of public and political life cannot be discounted, and the final word on his culpability is yet to come,” senior Congress leader Ashwani Kumar told The Sunday Express.