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Bihar poll the real test for Modi

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Roughly 32,000 new voters enrolled in each constituency for this year’s assembly election in Bihar may play a decisive role in determining the ultimate poll result. The presence of these new voters becomes important in the light of the fact that during the last two assembly elections in the state, the victory margins of many of the winning candidates ranged between 12,000 and 13,000 votes.

lalu-nitish1But there are plenty of ifs and buts before the state goes to the polls. The electoral behaviour of the Hindi-speaking states in the Indo-Gangetic plain is always influenced by caste factors and here, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav, a former chief minister and one of the principal players of caste-based politics in India, have stolen a march by stitching up an alliance and announcing their respective share of seats. There is reason for the Bharatiya Janatta Party (BJP) to feel a bit rattled as it cannot field an equally powerful counter-combination of castes and, therefore, has fallen back on its slogan of “development” as can be understood from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of a grant of Rs.1.25 lakh crore for Bihar.

But this slogan of “development”, together with a sense of “national perspective”, as described by the BJP, had enabled the constituents of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) it leads to capture 31 seats out of 40 in Bihar during the 2014 parliamentary elections. The NDA’s combined vote-share was 38.8 percent while the BJP’s individual share in this stood at 29.86 percent. However, the vote share of the opposition parties consisting of the Janata Dal-United (JD-U), the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) combined was much more than that of the NDA. This is the source of worry for the BJP.

The BJP’s traditional vote-base consists of the Brahmins and the Baniyas of Indian society. Party veteran L.K. Advani first tried to broadbase it by his concept of a broader Hindutva. The BJP could successfully romp home in the last Lok Sabha elections in spite of its divorce from Nitish Kumar, who represented the other backward class (OBC) interests. This was because a significant number of OBC votes and even a slight amount of Muslim votes had swung towards the BJP. But this is unlikely to happen now.

This time, the BJP can safely count on 14 percent upper-caste votes, six percent Vaishya votes, around six percent votes that are likely to go to the Lok Janshakti Party of Ram Vilas Paswan and four percent votes of the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party of Upendra Kushwaha. Former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, hailing from the Musahar caste and representing the interests of the ‘mahadalits’, can bring in another five to six percent votes. But this may not be enough for the BJP to secure a convincing victory.

Against this backdrop, the new voters have become important for the BJP as they may not have been bitten by the caste bug. But the BJP’s greatest worry should come from the Muslims, who constitute nearly 15 percent of the voters. For a long time since the 1990s, the RJD garnered most of their votes. Latest indications, however, are that they are again switching their loyalty to the Congress.

This will certainly give the JD-U-RJD-Congress combine extra advantage. In the 2014 parliamentary polls these parties together had received 45.6 percent votes. But for tilting the scales in their favour, both the combines are expected to rely heavily on the extremely backward castes (EBCs) who constitute nearly 24 percent of the Bihar populace. In 2014, 53 percent of this group had voted for the BJP. How they would cast their votes this time has become an important question.

In all probability, the JD-U will be able to retain its 16.4 percent vote base. The Congress is also expected to maintain its 8.56 percent share. About the RJD, however, there are some reasonable doubts. In 2014 it had received 20.46 percent votes. But this time there are two spoilsports – the Garib Janata Dal (Secular) of Sadhu Yadav and the Jana Adhikar Mancha of Pappu Yadav. Both are likely to cut into the RJD vote-share in some pockets. At the same time they have, till now, declared their support for Jitan Ram Manjhi – which may harm the JD-U a bit.

On the whole, the Bihar election result is likely to be a cliff-hanger – and the real test for Narendra Modi.

(IANS)

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Facts About Fodder Scam: 21 Year Old Case Against Lalu Prasad Yadav

A Rs 1000 crore scam through a nexus of bureaucrats, elected officials, and businessmen which resulted in the conviction of more than 500 people

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Lalu Prasad Yadav is the highest profile person convicted in the Fodder Scam. Wikimedia Commons
Lalu Prasad Yadav is the highest profile person convicted in the Fodder Scam. Wikimedia Commons

BY SHANTAM SAHAI

  • 1000 crore scam with fraudulent withdrawals on the pretext of fictitious livestock
  • A nexus of bureaucrats, elected officials, and businessmen
  • All of it resulted in 500 convictions, including that of RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav

India faces many challenges. Corruption, however, tops the list. It has proved to be an impenetrable loop in our system which continues to adversely affect the country’s economy and the credibility of our government agencies. This loop has a history of holding our economy back from reaching new heights and also stunted the country’s development process.

Let’s turn the pages of history to not long before 23rd December 2017, when RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav was convicted by a special CBI court in Ranchi for the Fodder Scam. In a quick followup he had tweeted:

In his tweet, he was supposedly attacking the BJP. The fact, anyway, remains that he was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison and was slapped a 25 lakh fine by the CBI court.

Many were not satisfied with the verdict, though.

What is the Fodder Scam?

Fodder scam, a corruption scandal, was next to a theft that spanned over twenty years. The embezzlement amounts to over ₹1000 crore from the government treasury in Bihar. It involved a number of administrative and elected officials from multiple departments. A scam of extremely high duration and magnitude, it proved the existence of a nexus between bureaucrats, politicians and businessmen. The Fodder Scam became a prime example of the ‘mafia raj’ that has penetrated the state-run economic sectors of the country.  

ALSO READ: Lalu acting as proxy leader to unleash ‘jungleraj 2’ in Bihar

How was it done?

It worked like a conspiracy where high-level politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen teamed up to fill their pockets with public money. Several fraudulent withdrawals from the Bihar treasury were made, on the pretext of procurement of fodder, medicines and animal husbandry for vast herds of fictitious livestock. It was done by forging several documents and fabricating allotment letters for making payment to suppliers for ‘non-supply or short supply’ of feed/fodder/medicines. Basically, huge withdrawals for the supply that never existed.

Fodder scam is so-called because of the fictitious livestock. Pixabay
Fodder scam is so-called because of the fictitious livestock. Pixabay
  • Suppliers, in connivance with officials enjoying political patronage, submitted forged documents and produced fake bills to claim reimbursements from the animal husbandry department.
  • They (suppliers) mentioned registration numbers of two-wheelers saying that cattle including buffaloes were transported over hundreds of kilometres by those vehicles.
  • Bills of 500 kg of mustard oil worth Rs 15 lakh meant to polish the horns of buffaloes were submitted and cleared.
  • Pigs were shown purchased from Ludhiana by animal husbandry officer RK Rana – who went on to become a Member of Parliament on RJD’s ticket. Rana claimed that during transportation of pigs from Punjab to Bihar, half of the pigs died at Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh.

All these were bogus claims to withdraw huge amounts of public money.

For example, when the Deputy Commissioner of Jamshedpur district administration received an information that huge fraudulent withdrawal of Government money has been made in budget head 2403 of Animal Husbandry Department in the period 1991 to 1996, he got it inquired by a senior officer. It was found that in the said head 2403 Animal Husbandry, withdrawal has been made from Jamshedpur Treasury even more than the whole budget of Bihar State in the head.

The allotment for the whole State and the withdrawal from the Jamshedpur Treasury. Civil Court Ranchi
The allotment for the whole State and the withdrawal from the Jamshedpur Treasury. Civil Court Ranchi

This was a just a small part of the big picture, which once revealed, convicted more than 500 people.

How was the scam exposed?

Ravi S Jha, an Indian journalist, who was working with the Asian Age, then in Calcutta, was the first to name Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav of having implicit involvement in the scam. He not only found involvement of Bihar Government machinery in the scam but even mentioned how earlier governments too were flouting norms to make money illegally.

Many people believe the Fodder Scam was unearthed, for the first time, in 1996. However, Bihar Veterinary Association had already exposed the Animal Husbandry Mafia in 1985 through a Press Conference. Though in 1990, the executive committee of Bihar Veterinary Association was modified, and Dr Dinneshwar Prasad Sharma was made the General Secretary of BVA. The mafia now had control over the association.

ALSO READ: SC notice to Lalu in fodder scam case

The CBI investigation is said to have been driven by political consideration. Wikimedia Commons
The CBI investigation is said to have been driven by political consideration. Wikimedia Commons

At that point, Dr Dharmendra Sinha and Dr Biresh Prasad Sinha (Ex-officers of BVA) had started collecting information against this whole scandal. They had shared their information with Sushil Kumar Modi who initiated the whole episode of exposure after it was broken out by VS Dubey.

Who is VS Dubey?

VS Dubey was the Finance Commissioner, who came across some financial irregularities of massive scale. On 20th January 1996, he made an enquiry of the excessive withdrawals by Animal Husbandry Department from Ranchi treasury. The enquiry revealed a horrific whole scale loot of government money drawn through forged documents.

On 27th January 1996, Amit Khare, the Deputy Commissioner of West Singhbhum conducted raids (on direction from VS Dubey) on the offices of Animal Husbandry Department in the town of Chaibasa. The documents seized by him indicated a large-scale embezzlement by an organized mafia of officials and businessmen. Ravi S Jha’s work was based on the evidence found in Chaibasa.

CBI comes into the picture

The state police was probing the irregularities. However, it is accountable to the state administration and hence, there were fears that the probe committee would not investigate the case properly. People demanded the case be transferred to Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) which is under federal rather than state jurisdiction.

Many members of the probe committee themselves faced allegations of being involved in the scam. A PIL was filed in the Supreme Court in March 1996, based on the directions issued by the SC, the Patna High Court ordered that the case is handed over to the CBI.

In the span of over two decades, the CBI registered 53 cases related to the Fodder Scam. More than 500 people have been convicted by various courts, including Lalu Prasad Yadav.

Aftermath and Impact

The Fodder scam has become a symbol of bureaucratic corruption and criminalization of politics. The investigation and prosecution are said to have been guided by political motive. Many lower level staffs who did not have any connection to the scam have been crucified in the process. Many families are left without any earning. And when the Lok Sabha debated for a complete session as ‘Lalu Prasad Yadav’ an official agenda, how can we look forward to a system that has set its priorities right?

The 1000 crore of tax payer’s money that was embezzled in the Fodder Scam, will it be compensated by 3.5 years of jail term or an acquittal?