By Saumyata Joshi:
Besides holding the distinction of being the most effective political communicator in India, Lalu Prasad Yadav also had to his credit one more quality which nevertheless added great glamour to his political persona. The rustic buffoonery which Lalu used to indulge in with the intention of knocking down his political competitors inside Parliament is something which might never be eclipsed by any statesman belonging to the Indian political class. But this buffoonery might well be history as Yadav has been convicted for 5 years by a judicial court for the infamous fodder scam which occurred in the 1990s when the “Lalu Raj” was at its very peak. Lalu’s pain is shared by a lesser known legislator by the name of Rasheed Masood who has also been convicted in a corruption scandal.
The conviction of both these political players, the former being a heavyweight and the latter being a lightweight politician, is significant because of several reasons. The initial observation which can be drawn upon as a result of these convictions pertains to the vindication of that Supreme Court judgement which held a certain provision of the Representation of People Act as unconstitutional since it acted as a shield to safeguard convicted legislators. However, the series of events which unfolded prior to Lalu’s conviction should make one wonder about the extent to which the law can be twisted to keep up with the “coalition dharma.” The manner in which the UPA Government connived to undo the Supreme Judgement, first by means by legislation and then by hastily pushing through a controversial ordinance, was reflective of a peculiar kind of political realism but the most encouraging development became visible when President Pranab Mukherjee gathered the courage to stonewall this sinister attempt of the UPA Government.
Unlike Vice President Hamid Ansari who became the centre of suspicion when he adjourned the house during the infamous “midnight fiasco” which occurred during the discussion on the Lokpal Bill in December 2011, President Pranab Mukherjee gained a sense of public respect when he insisted upon being briefed about the ordinance. The UPA government might have sensed the way the water was flowing and so the spin doctors devised or rather played to perfection a PR exercise which involved the “reluctant prince” taking a stand against his own party’s government. By doing so, the Congress diffused the possibility of being embarrassed at the hands of the man who was often referred to as “always the bridesmaid but never the bride.”
The convictions of Yadav and Masood should be welcomed but the larger question amounts to the delay in delivering justice. The first mentioning of the Fodder Scam in which Yadav has been sentenced occurred in a 1985 report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. The scam occurred over a period of decades and came in to public prominence during the latter half of the last decade of the 20th century. Rasheed Masood, who served as the Minister for Health & Family Welfare in the VP Singh Government, was also involved in a scandal which dated back to the 1990s. He made wrongful use of his power and influence to benefit crooks that were unduly granted admission in medical colleges. While conviction has indeed taken place but there is a long way to go before the final conviction takes place as the offenders have the liberty of taking the matter to a higher court of law. This fact in itself dampens the idea of rejoicing or celebrating the conviction of these tainted lawmakers.
One can only be cynical when he sees people getting convicted for pre-liberalisation scandals decades post-liberalization. They say that whatever you say about India, the opposite of it is also true. This saying stands true in the case of that historic Supreme Court judgement on convicted legislators as also the convictions of Yadav and Masood. On one hand, it is judicial activism which is responsible for striking down the controversial provisions of the Representation of People Act but then it’s the same judicial sluggishness which takes us decades to punish corrupt lawmakers. Shows that India is indeed a paradox.