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Janata keeps name, George gets crown

New Delhi, Oct. 30: George Fernandes’ Samata Party today officially merged with Sharad Yadav’s Janata Dal (United), in a prelude to bringing former socialists and Janata parivar members on a single platform before the coming elections.

The unified outfit, which retained the name of Yadav’s party, will have Fernandes as its new president. Union food minister Yadav will be the chairman of the parliamentary board.

The party will retain the Dal (U)’s election symbol — arrow — while its flag will be green and white, that of the erstwhile Samata.

Senior Samata leader and railway minister Nitish Kumar will be the leader of the 18-member party in the Lok Sabha. Before the merger, the Samata had 12 MPs and the Dal (U) 6.

A steering committee comprising the top three — Fernandes, Yadav and Kumar — has been set up to run the new outfit.

Even as the two parties coalesced into a unified entity, talks on giving shape to a third front gathered momentum at former Prime Minister and Samajwadi Janata Party chief Chandra Shekhar’s residence.

The other protagonists were Janata Dal (Secular) leader H.D. Deve Gowda (also a former Prime Minister), Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan and representatives of the Nationalist Congress Party and the Republican Party of India.

The leaders are meeting again on November 1 to have further talks.

The merger announcement came at a crowded news conference. Fernandes, Yadav and Kumar flanked by Digvijay Singh, Samata leader and minister of state for external affairs, Samata general secretary Shiv Kumar and his Dal (U) counterpart, K.C. Tyagi, jointly addressed the conference.

Fernandes scotched reports that the move was “Bihar centric”. He said both the Dal (U) and the Samata had roots all over the country. The National Democratic Alliance convener said he would talk with all like-minded parties and even those who are outside politics, meaning leaders of socialist vintage, but did not elaborate.

In reply to a question, Fernandes said he had talks with Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee about joining the proposed parivar though she is not from the socialist stream, but added that “no final decision was taken”. He said he also had talks with Indian National Lok Dal chief Om Prakash Chautala, an NDA ally, but the Haryana chief minister had declined to merge his outfit.

Fernandes claimed that the merger was not aimed at enhancing bargaining power vis-à-vis the BJP and said he would be happy if the new party enters into an electoral alliance with the main NDA constituent in the coming Assembly elections in five states.

Asked if Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal will also be brought into the Dal (U) fold, the defence minister said efforts would be made in this direction.

To pre-empt the rebels in both the Samata and the Dal (U) from moving court against the merger, a national council of the parties will be convened to formalise the unification.

Dal (U) dissident Devendra Prasad Yadav had yesterday said the merger was unconstitutional as it did not have the approval of the party’s national council. Expelled Samata leader Brahmanand Mandal, too, had hinted at challenging the “illegal” move.

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