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Merger buzz after George breakfast

New Delhi, Oct. 15: Samata Party chief George Fernandes today began moves to reunite former Socialist and Janata Dal splinter parties, fuelling speculation that efforts are underway to forge a third front ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

Plans are afoot for the immediate merger of the Samata Party and the Janata Dal (United); Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal and some other parties may join in later.

The unity moves attracted attention with Fernandes, who is also the National Democratic Alliance convener, holding a breakfast meeting today at his residence to discuss the merger modalities. The two-hour meeting was attended by Janata Dal (United) chief and Union food minister Sharad Yadav, senior Samata leader and Union railway minister Nitish Kumar, Union minister of state for external affairs Digvijay Singh and Samata leader and Dal (U) chief whip Ramjeevan Singh. Lallan Singh, the Samata leader in the Rajya Sabha, K.C. Tyagi, Dal (U) general secretary, and Samata spokesperson Shiv Kumar were also present.

Haryana chief minister Chautala was a special invitee.

The proposed reunification will help the leaders strengthen their social base in the heartland and take on the Congress and Rashtriya Janata Dal. Apart from bolstering their own electoral prospects in their respective constituencies, the merger will increase the leaders’ collective bargaining power with the BJP. This will probably not be to the liking of the BJP.

Today’s meeting, the first serious reunity attempt, went off smoothly. Another meeting to discuss the modalities of a merger will be held before Diwali.

The Samata and the Dal (U) had planned to merge in 2000, but the plan came unstuck following resistance from Fernandes supporters, for Jaya Jaitley would have lost the post of president of the unified party. Yadav was eyeing that post for himself.

But three years on, the party leaders are “more positive” and “serious” about the merger. Prickly issues like who will head the unified party will be sorted out, a source said, hinting that two posts — that of a president and a working president — may be created. Fernandes or Yadav are likely to head the party.

Sources say Dal (U) and Samata leaders are worried, not only about their party’s electoral prospects, but even about their own chances of victory. Yadav, who won the last polls from Madhepura in Bihar, is not confident of a victory this time, and is scouting for a safe constituency. Same is the case with Nitish, who scraped through from Barh in 1999 with a margin of 1,300 votes.

Fernandes had triumphed from Nalanda, thanks to Nitish’s Kurmi vote bank. But following bitter squabbles between his faction and that of the railway minister, Fernandes is not confident of unstinting Kurmi support this time.

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