In fresh trouble for Lalu Prasad Yadav, a Bharatiya Janata Party MLA in Bihar on Thursday lodged a first information report alleging that the jailed Rashtriya Janata Dal president had approached him with enticements in exchange for helping the opposition party in defeating the ruling National Democratic Alliance on the floor of the state assembly.
Lalan Kumar Paswan, who lodged the FIR with the vigilance department, held that the RJD chief's alleged act was tantamount to 'corruption' since, as a member of the legislative assembly, he was a 'public servant' whom Yadav had tried to entice away from 'performing the constitutional obligation of taking part in voting in the House'.
The maverick RJD president, currently in Ranchi and serving sentences in fodder scam cases, had allegedly called up the MLA on Tuesday and asked him to remain 'absent' on Wednesday when election of the Speaker was scheduled.
RJD's candidate Awadh Bihari Chaudhary lost to NDA nominee Vijay Kumar Sinha by eight votes and the flamboyant RJD supremo seemed to suggest, in the telephone conversation of which the audio clip has gone viral on social media, that a defeat of the BJP-supported candidate would lead to the fall of the newly-installed Nitish Kumar government.
"We will take good care of you... make you a minister," Yadav purportedly said in the audio clip, seeming to assure Paswan that if he made himself scarce, he would remain protected against possible disqualification since 'we will have our own Speaker'.
Addressing a press conference after lodging the FIR, Paswan said, "The episode reflects the mindset of the RJD which has learnt no lessons despite being out of power for 15 years. I am a Dalit and, with a bank balance of just Rs 928, called the poorest member of the newly-constituted assembly.
"The RJD leadership seems to believe that people from such socio-economic backgrounds are always up for sale."
He recalled with indignation, "I had greeted him so respectfully, even uttered charan sparsh (denoting touching of feet) keeping his seniority in view. But what he said left me shattered. Thankfully, I was at the place of our senior Sushil Kumar Modi in whom I found an anchor."
Sushil Modi, the state's former deputy CM and a BJP heavyweight, had flagged the issue of poaching of NDA's legislators on his Twitter handle a few days ago.
He had also shared the number from which calls were being made to NDA MLAs claimed to have himself spoken to Yadav on the same, warning the flamboyant RJD supremo against 'dirty tricks'.
The senior BJP leader also subsequently shared the audio clip and transcript of the conversation on the social media platform.
His first tweet, mentioning the mobile number from which the call was made, was, however, removed earlier in the day by Twitter.
The mobile number is said to be of a personal attendant of the RJD boss who had been allowed access to the leader at a bungalow inside the Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences premises, where he had been lodged on account of poor health, until the latest happenings led to his being shifted back to a paid ward in the hospital.
Meanwhile, smaller NDA allies also came out with claims of having spurned similar overtures from Yadav while the Janata Dal-United, headed by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, furiously demanded that he be sent to Tihar jail.
"He had contacted members of my party with the request that they help him get through to me. I never obliged," said former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, the founding president of Hindustani Awam Morcha.
Vikassheel Insaan Party chief Mukesh Sahni also told reporters, "I had received a call from Lalu Prasad... I will divulge details of conversation at an appropriate time."
Neeraj Kumar, JD-U MLC and a former minister, said this is clear evidence that despite being away from Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav is trying to influence the state's politics in the 'most unethical way'.
"Enough of leniency on the ground of ill-health. He should immediately be brought back to Hotwar jail in Ranchi and steps should be initiated to shift him to Tihar in New Delhi where he will receive quality medical treatment without any opportunity to indulge in such machinations," he said.
Incidentally, a bail plea of Prasad in Dumka treasury case is scheduled for hearing by the Jharkhand high court. If the bail is granted, the septuagenarian may walk out of custody after more than two years.
RJD MLA and chief spokesman Bhai Virendra questioned the veracity of the audio, pointing out that there was no dearth of mimicry artists who could copy Prasad's peculiar voice and accent to perfection, and demanded a thorough probe to bring out the truth.