The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Paswan joins, with a warning

New Delhi, May 22: Wrangling over plum ministries by sulking Bihar leaders Laloo Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan has delayed the release of the list of portfolios.

Usually ministry allocation is announced in one or two hours after the swearing-in ceremony. Today it was to be done by 9 pm. But because of last-minute changes caused by leaders like Paswan, the list may be announced by tomorrow, Congress sources said.

Paswan was persuaded to take oath in the nick of time, but the visibly upset Lok Janshakti Party leader issued a veiled warning immediately after the swearing-in that he might break his party’s alliance in Bihar with the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal for the coming Assembly elections.

The “Congress-RJD-LJP alliance in Bihar was only for the Lok Sabha elections”, Paswan pointed out, saying he is free to take a decision independently for the Assembly polls.

The whole of yesterday was spent in wooing Laloo Prasad. The RJD chief had been angling for home, which the Congress did not want to part with.

Laloo Prasad then threatened to stay out of the government, forcing the Congress to offer him railways and seven other ministries. He also demanded a hefty monetary package for Bihar to compensate the loss from the carving out of Jharkhand.

It took hectic parleys involving Congress leaders Pranab Mukherjee, R.K. Dhawan, Kapil Sibal, Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar and former Prime Minister V.P. Singh to bring around a sulking RJD chief.

However, they failed to gauge the mood of Paswan and this led to another crisis today, with the Lok Janshakti leader going into a sulk over being denied the railway portfolio. The Congress brass were on tenterhooks till 5.10 pm.

It was thought that Paswan might be given telecom in lieu of railway, which he had been eyeing. But with reports today that he is unlikely to get either and would be given chemicals and fertilisers, Paswan decided not to take oath.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi had called Paswan for talks in the morning, but he appeared far from satisfied. Lok Janshakti Party workers thronged his residence shouting slogans against Sonia. Cries of “Rail nahin to oath nahin (No oath without railway)” and “Sonia Gandhi hosh mein aao, Daliton ki andekhi nahin chalegi (Come to your senses, we will not allow Dalits to be ignored)” rent the air.

The crowd then disrupted traffic on the busy Janpath.

V.P. Singh and Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel rushed to Paswan’s residence to urge him to take oath. After several rounds of talks that also involved senior Congress leaders, he was persuaded — 20 minutes before the swearing-in ceremony — to proceed to Rashtrapati Bhavan.

It is still not known whether the Congress will keep defence or give it to someone like Laloo Prasad so that the railway could be given to Paswan.

The Telengana Rashtra Samity was also sulking till last evening as the common minimum programme did not have any specific assurance on the creation of a separate Telengana state. Party chief Chandrasekhar Rao was finally persuaded to join.

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