Business Line
New Delhi

On Monday, as the RJD leader Lalu Prasad was sent to the Birsa Munda Central Jail in Ranchi, after being convicted by a special CBI court in the multi-crore fodder scam, a big question mark hung over his political career. The RJD has been extending outside support to the ruling coalition at the Centre.

In July, the Supreme Court had ruled that an MP convicted in a criminal case would have to quit office till his or her appeal was decided by a higher court.

It was widely believed that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government was bringing in an Ordinance to counter this ruling and protect convicted law-makers. The Ordinance has already got the Cabinet’s nod.

However, last week, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi tore into the Government’s move to bring in the Ordinance, terming it as “nonsense”, rattling many within his party.

On Monday, political circles were abuzz with talk that the 65-year-old Prasad’s conviction could pave the way for newer alliances for the Congress in the run-up to the general elections due next year. It may be recalled that Janata Dal (United) recently severed its long-term ties with Bharatiya Janata Party in Bihar. When asked, the Congress party said the law had taken its own course, and was guarded on the judgment’s fall-out on alliances.

“It’s too early to say what impact it (the verdict) will have on alliances in Bihar and Jharkhand. We cannot say anything on what will happen about alliance,” the party’s communication department head, Ajay Maken, told reporters.

Prodded further, Maken said, “There should not be political reactions on a judicial process. This is a judicial process and we would not like to comment on it.”

On whether the UPA Government would go ahead with the Ordinance on convicted MPs, Maken said party Vice-President Rahul Gandhi had already expressed his views on it.

Party leaders Sachin Pilot and Rashid Alvi also maintained that the law was the same for everybody.

The Opposition BJP hailed the conviction of Prasad and 44 others by the special CBI court.

Party spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “All those who commit corruption with impunity need to understand that law will catch up with you. I am sure it will also catch up with those who are with the Government of India.”

RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh however maintained that Prasad’s conviction would not impact his party’s fortunes.

“RJD has been a party of the downtrodden and weaker sections and will remain strong and united even after conviction of our leader,” he said.

Meanwhile, the judgment, which came 17 years after the scam broke out, may be a case of ‘better late than never’, but civil society activists, who have been building public opinion against criminalisation of politics, feel the conviction rate in the country is still too low.

According to an analysis by the Association of Democratic Reforms, in the elections since 2008 (including Lok Sabha 2009), of the 4,807 MPs and MLAs, 30 per cent had declared criminal cases against them, of which 688 had declared serious criminal cases, such as murder and kidnapping.

However, only 24 (0.5 per cent) out of the 4,807 sitting MPs and MLAs had been convicted in a court of law, as declared in their affidavits to the Election Commission.

“One obvious reason for this low rate of conviction is the excruciatingly slow pace at which hearings of cases proceed in our courts,” the ADR said.

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