Powerful North Indian Politician Is Convicted of Siphoning Funds

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NEW DELHI -- A longtime political heavyweight from northern India, Lalu Prasad, was found guilty on Monday of participating in a scheme that siphoned off public money for more than a decade, ending a trial that was seen as a watershed in India's struggle with corruption.

Mr. Prasad, 65, was India's railway minister from 2004 to 2009 and chief minister of Bihar from 1990 to 1997, presiding over a state so mired in corruption and poverty that it became known as the Jungle Raj. Despite a poor record, Mr. Prasad was re-elected once, and when a corruption scandal forced him to step aside in 1997, he appointed his wife as his stand-in; she too won re-election.

Along with Mr. Prasad, scores of Bihar officials were found guilty on Monday in the case, known as the Fodder Scam because it concerned the diversion of public funds meant to support animal husbandry.

Though Mr. Prasad's party, Rashtriya Janata Dal, finally lost control of Bihar in the election of 2005, it still has four seats in the national Parliament, one held by Mr. Prasad, and he maintains an alliance with the national ruling party, the Indian National Congress, and with its leader, Sonia Gandhi.

Under a recent Supreme Court order, Mr. Prasad will not be allowed to remain in office if he is given a sentence of more than two years. When the Congress party recently introduced a proposal to allow convicted lawmakers to stay in office, many suspected that the move was prompted by his case. But with India's electorate increasingly frustrated over a series of corruption cases, the party's proposal has come under harsh criticism, and Rahul Gandhi, Congress's vice president, made a statement last week rejecting the measure as "nonsense," leading to speculation that the government might withdraw it.

Under Mr. Prasad's leadership, Bihar was home to some of India's sickest, poorest and shortest-lived people. A populist from one of India's lower castes, Mr. Prasad was widely credited with infusing Bihar's lower castes with political power, and with cracking down on religious violence in the state, which won him the loyalty of many Muslims there.

He was eventually dislodged by another lower-caste politician, Nitish Kumar, who forged an alliance between the lowest of the Dalits, or untouchables, and wealthy upper castes in Bihar.

A spokesman for Bharatiya Janata, the main opposition party, celebrated the verdict against Mr. Prasad on Monday, calling it "a justice day for Bihar and justice day for India against corrupt politicians."

Ellen Barry contributed reporting.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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