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George-Sharad deal

New Delhi, Oct. 28: Ending weeks of speculation, Samata Party president George Fernandes and Janata Dal (United) chief Sharad Yadav today agreed to merge their parties.

The decision was taken in the presence of senior Samata leader Nitish Kumar after a three-hour meeting at Fernandes’ residence, a short joint statement issued by the two party bosses said.

The name of the new party, its president, election symbol and other details of reunification would be announced on Thursday at a joint news conference by senior leaders of the parties.

Sources said while there is near unanimity on naming the party “Janata Dal”, some differences persist over the choice of president. The Samata faction led by Kumar favours Yadav as the president, while others are rooting for Fernandes.

A third proposal is to create the post of a working president with either Yadav or Fernandes holding it.

The sources are not sure the Election Commission will allow retention of the name “Janata Dal” without any prefix or suffix. The original Dal had splintered in 1997 and, according to poll panel norms, the name is frozen when the parent party breaks up.

Apart from pushing out the BJP as the main Opposition party in the Bihar Assembly, the merger will make it difficult for rebels in both parties to split the outfit as the combined strength of the merged party will be 18 — the Samata with 12 and the Dal (U) with six — in the Lok Sabha.

While dissidents are scheming to break away before the general elections, Fernandes and Yadav are not sitting idle. They are in touch will an RJD splinter comprising Nagmani, Sukhdev Paswan and Anwarul Haq, two Lok Janashakti Party rebels — Jainarain Nishad and Ramesh Jigjinagi — and the three-member Indian Federal Democratic Party, led by Kerala Congress (M) rebel P.C. Thomas.

If these three groups join, the reunified party will have 24 members in the Lok Sabha and it would be a tall order for the rebels to split it.

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