Lalu's trick fails, SC refuses to change trial judge

The SC judgment is a major setback to Lalu who is still reckoned in Bihar as a formidable political force


Ajay Singh | August 13, 2013

RJD president Lalu Prasad
RJD president Lalu Prasad

With the supreme court dismissing the petition of former Bihar chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav who sought to change the special CBI judge in Ranchi hearing the fodder scam case, there is a strong possibility of political equations in Bihar undergoing a sea change.

The three-member SC bench headed by chief justice P Sathasivam has also directed the special CBI judge at Ranchi to deliver the verdict as soon as possible. The turn of events came quite unexpectedly as Yadav has been desperately resorting to legal stratagems to stall the verdict of the trial court.

Though Yadav did not find sympathetic hearing from the Ranchi High Court where his petition of changing the judge on the ground of “impartiality” was dismissed, he managed to evoke a degree of sympathy from the Supreme Court in two earlier hearings last month.  When chief justice Sathasivam asked the prosecution and the accused to shortlist the names of the judges in case the court ordered thus, it seemed that the apex court was actually inclined to grant this extraordinary relief for Lalu.

It caused some consternation in the judicial and political circles. It was being seen as yet another success for Lalu in the way he has manipulated the legal process to delay the case. If the court had ordered a retrial when the trial court had set a date for judgement, merely because the judge happened to be a distant relative of a JDU minister who had just lost an election to Lalu's lieutenant, it would have put the whole judicial process behind by at least a decade. And set a rather sad precedent. An intervention application filed by the original petitioner in the  fodder  scam, Rajiv Ranjan alias Lallan Singh, drew the attention of the SC bench comprising Justice Sathasivam, Justice Ranjana Desai and Juistice Ranjan Gogoi towards the dilatory tactics of Lalu.

On August 6, veteran lawyer Shanti Bhushan intervened for Lallan and tore apart the arguments of Yadav that the trial would be unfair if the presiding special judge of the CBI court was not changed. He effectively contradicted the insinuation that the judge would be biased as he was a relative of Yadav’s rival and a minister in the nitish Kumar Government. Raising serious questions about the unintended fallout of any move to change the trial court judge, Shanti Bhushan pointed out that such a move would convince people that politicians in the country can never be hauled up before the courts no matter how serious their crimes.

The SC judgment on Tuesday is a major setback to Lalu who is still reckoned in Bihar as a formidable political force. Given the fact that the trials in the fodder scam have seen scores of convictions, Lalu's political fate could be hanging on this verdict. If he is convicted in the case, he would not only be jailed but also forbidden to contest in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. A recent apex court judgement has held that convicted legislators cannot contest elections. 

Political parties as one have resolved to either file a review petition or amend the law to overturn the SC’s direction on the issue. Given the popular resentment over such a move, it appears quite difficult for the union government embroiled in corruption cases to resort to tactics which will be seen as justifying corruption.  In such a scenario, Lalu’s conviction in the fodder scam would invariably mark the beginning of an end for one of Bihar’s most charismatic and controversial political personalities. And this will set the stage for new political realignments which will have significant bearing on the national scene.



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