Ranchi:  RJD chief Lalu Prasad was on Thursday sentenced to five years rigorous imprisonment in a corruption case that immediately disqualifies him as MP and will keep him out of elections for 11 years, raising questions over the leadership of his party ahead of Lok Sabha polls next year.

The sentencing by special CBI judge Pravas Kumar Singh of the two-time former chief minister, another former chief minister Jagannath Mishra and sitting JD(U) Jagdish Sharma and other convicts, who are currently lodged in the Birsa Munda Central Jail here, was made through video conferencing.
    
65-year-old Prasad, who was convicted on September 30 in fodder scam case, was also fined Rs 25 lakhs. He, like other politicians, was convicted under the provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act. He claimed through video conferencing that he was innocent.
    
Mishra (76), who has faded from politics, was sentenced to four years rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs two lakh. Lok Sabha member from Jahanabad, Sharma, also faces disqualification in the wake of a Supreme Court judgement that an MP or MLA would lose the seat immediately if convicted by a court for crimes with punishment of two years or more and under some other laws even without jail sentence. In case of failure to pay the fine, the convicts would undergo another six months simple imprisonment.

Six other politicians and four IAS officers, among the convicted, were also sentenced to prison terms for fraudulent withdrawal of Rs 37.7 crore from Chaibasa treasury when Prasad was heading the RJD government in undivided Bihar in the early 1990s.

In the wake of framing charges in the fodder scam case, Prasad had to resign as chief minister of Bihar. After installing his wife Rabri Devi as the chief minister, Yadav had surrendered before a court in Patna on July 31, 1997.
    
Later, he came to Ranchi following a court order that Ranchi had jurisdiction in the case. The Becon Guest House was converted to a camp jail in Ranchi before he was shifted to the old Birsa Munda Jail at Circular road here.
    
After Jharkhand's bifurcation on November 15, 2000, the litigations were brought before the Supreme Court whether the Patna High Court had the jurisdiction on the cases in this part of the undivided Bihar and trial was stayed till December 2000 to December 2001.
    
The SC had said in November, 2001 that trial would be conducted by special courts in Ranchi. Trial in Ranchi began in March, 2002 by seven special courts. The case was posted for defence of Prasad from May 15 and Prasad's counsel examined 29 witnesses in his defence. But when the defence continued to skip dates, the court fixed July 15 to deliver the verdict and asked the accused to complete arguments by July 1.
    
Subsequently, Prasad moved the Supreme Court pleading for shifting of the case from the court of Pravas Kumar Singh on the ground of political conspiracy, which the apex court turned down, paving the way for the first judgement against Prasad.

Sir, I am innocent, pleads Lalu

Pleading before the court, Lalu Prasad claimed that he was falsely implicated."When I have not done any crime, how have I been punished?", he asked.
    
"Sir, I am innocent. I have been falsely framed in the case," a subdued Prasad pleaded during a video conference from the Birsa Munda Central Jail to Special CBI Judge Pravas Kumar Singh.

The Judge retorted: "You can appeal in the higher court."

JDU MP Jagdish Sharma also pleaded innocence.

Lalu is a hero and will remain a hero: Rabri

"Lalu Prasad is a hero and will remain a hero in future too," said his wife and former Bihar chief minister Rabri Devi soon after a CBI court in Ranchi delivered its verdict.

Rabri Devi was quoted by RJD secretary general and close confidante Ramkripal Yadav as having also said that her husband has fallen victim to 'conspiracy'.
    
She remained inside her official 10 Circular Road residence, barely a stone's throw from the chief minister's residence, watching the entire proceedings on TV.

READ MORE: Rabri Devi to meet Lalu in jail
    
While elder son Tej Pratap Yadav is with his mother the younger Tejaswi Yadav, considered heir apparent of the RJD chief, is still in Ranchi.
    
Ramkripal Yadav came out of the residence and told reporters that the family was 'not demoralised' by the court order which would disqualify Prasad as MP and debar him from contesting elections in near future.
       
"We were expecting this ... We are not demoralised," Yadav, RJD Rajya Sabha member said and blamed Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and BJP for 'conspiring' against the RJD chief in the fodder scam.
       
"The party rank and file have taken this as a challenge which we are committed to fight strongly," he said adding a meeting of RJD leaders has been called on October 6 at Patna to chalk out its future strategy.
        
The RJD office wore a deserted look after the court verdict against party supremo. Majority of the senior leaders are out of the state capital.

No change in leadership, Lalu will be out on bail soon: RJD

Meawhile, RJD alleged a political conspiracy by BJP and JD-U behind the sentencing of Lalu Prasad but ruled out the possibility of a change in party leadership, saying its chief will be out on bail soon.
    
"Lalu ji has become a victim of a political conspiracy and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar (of JDU) and BJP has an important role in this conspiracy. We will go to people and apprise them of the conspiracy and hobnobbing between BJP and JD(U) against Lalu ji," party MP Ramkripal Yadav told reporters.

"Lalu is innocent. He has been punished because he was voicing the concerns of the poor and strengthening secularism. Those who made money are moving outside freely and the person, who lodged the case, got 45 FIRs registered, has been jailed," Yadav, a close aide of Prasad, said.
    

Senior party leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh trashed talks about the possibility of a change in RJD's leadership saying it was not required as Prasad will be out on bail.
    
"Lalu is himself available. What crisis if somebody is absent for five-ten days? Yes he has been sentenced for five years but will he not get bail? We will move an appeal in high court," he said.
    
"I have given him the Gita. By the time, he reads up half of the scripture, he will be out of jail. If somebody goes somewhere for 10-20 days, should we  make another appointment in his place. This is totally impractical," he said.
    
He also sought to make a difference between Prasad appointing his wife Rabri Devi as chief minister, when he was first sent to jail long back and the situation now.
    
"There is difference between the headship of the government. At that time, he was the head of the government. The head of government has to be changed, if the incumbent head of the government is going to jail. That is the technical thing. There is no such technical requirement as far as party headship is concerned," Singh said.

Speaker to take decision on Lalu’s disqualification as an MP

Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar has said that she will take decision on Lalu’s disqualification after receiving a copy of court’s judgement.

REACTIONS

Laluji has become a victim of political conspiracy as there was no proof against him. We expected justice from the court but are disappointed. We will not be silent. The RJD will go to people. I will lead the party: Rabri Devi

Lalu gets 5 years in jail with fine. But what about gains of crime? Crores lost whose benefit he had all these past years? Those too be recovered. This is not enough. Lalu's properties must be attached: Kiran Bedi said on twitter

Be alert, corrupt leaders. Be ready, nobody can save you: Uma Bharti, BJP leader said on twitter

Finally the law has caught up with the corrupt: Ravi Shankar Prasad, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha

Justice delayed but not denied: Venkaiah Naidu, BJP leader

(JPN/Agencies)

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