Patna: The BJP has spun a fanciful tale around a Facebook photo Lalu Prasad Yadav seated across from Jharkhand health minister Banna Gupta and Congress leader Sarfaraj on Saturday to accuse the RJD supremo of holding a ‘durbar’ in the hospital and of calling the shots from behind bars.
The picture, which has gone viral on social media, has been used by myriad channels and newspapers to accuse Yadav – a convict in the fodder scam cases undergoing treatment at the Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS), Ranchi – of ‘violating’ prison regulations and resorting to ‘lawlessness’.
Firstly, the picture in question isn’t from Yadav’s room in the hospital. A chronic diabetic, the RJD boss was, on the advice of his doctors and after due permission from a court, walking briskly in the corridor on the first floor of the hospital – the same floor as the room allotted to him – on a Saturday morning.
Jharkhand’s health minister, Banna Gupta, having just undergone a hernia operation, had been allotted a room on the same floor in the private ward at RIMS. It is unclear whether Yadav was aware that Gupta was recuperating in another room – 10 rooms away from Lalu’s on the same floor – until he met him on Saturday.
There were about half a dozen security staff persons were outside Yadav’s room. As Yadav walked along the rooms in the L-shaped corridor on the floor, Banna Gupta, who’s door was ajar, saw Yadav and said, “Sir, please come to my room. I am undergoing treatment here.”
“Out of reflex, Lalu responded to Gupta and entered his room,” Jharkhand high court lawyer Prabhat Kumar, who manages Yadav’s cases, said and added, “The health minister out of courtesy left his bed and sat on a chair and requested Lalu to sit in another chair that was in his room”.
The RIMS sources said that Banna Gupta, a Congress leader, had been lodged in a two-room suite with four chairs. Congress leader Sarfaraj and another aide to the minister were present in Gupta’s room who was permitted to have visitors in his room.
However, as Yadav sat in a chair with Gupta, Sarfarj clicked a picture on his mobile phone. One of Gupta’s supporter was also present in the room when Yadav entered. “Lalu stayed in Banna Gupta’s room for barely five minutes. After enquiring about Banna’s health, Lalu stood up and began walking in the corridor again. He later went to his room,” said a doctor who had been on rounds in the ward on Saturday.
Be it his innocence or design, Sarfaraj later posted the picture on social media. “I just posted the picture without thinking too much. I never thought that the BJP and the media would use the picture to make a mountain out of a molehill. Had I known I would never have posted the picture,” Sarfaraj said.
Lalu Prasad’s RJD is a part of the JMM-Congress-RJD alliance headed by chief minister Hemant Soren in Jharkhand. The JMM-Congress-RJD combination had defeated the BJP in the last assembly elections with Soren replacing Raghubar Das as the chief minister of Jharkhand.
Bihar’s deputy chief minister, Sushil Kumar Modi said, “With a favourable government in Jharkhand, Lalu Prasad is misusing his power and holding durbar at his room. The Jharkhand government is ignoring Lalu’s lawlessness.”
A Ranchi based senior journalist Umapad Mahato said, “The allegation of Lalu holding durbar in the jail is wrong. It’s a fact that Jharkhand has the JMM-Congress-RJD government and it is also a fact that being the RJD chief, Lalu has his say in the government. But using a picture from social media to cook up a story about Lalu holding a durbar is wrong”.
Sushil Modi has said that Lalu Prasad was trying to influence elections in Bihar due in November by holding a ‘durbar’ and meeting leaders in violation of prison regulations. He also said, “The RJD is trying to pressurise the judiciary by raising issues of his old age and diseases coupled with COVID-19 which is affecting a large number of people in Bihar and Jharkhand”.
But RJD spokesman Mritunjay Tiwary said, “BJP and JDU are gripped by Lalu-phobia. Laluji has never violated the court’s order. He has gone to jail when the court sent him and has come out on bail when granted the same by the court. He has always said that he has faith in judiciary”.
Lalu Prasad’s bail application in one of the four cases in which he stands convicted by the lower court is under the consideration at the Jharkhand high court. The high court has already granted him bail in two cases.
Yadav’s supporters feel that the BJP is using its sway over media to influence the court over his pending bail petition.
Nalin Verma is a senior journalist and author of Lalu Prasad’s memoir, Gopalganj to Raisina—My Political Journey and The Greatest Folk Tales of Bihar.