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Miffed, Laloo tries to hem Cong in

New Delhi, Aug. 2: Laloo Prasad Yadav continues to be a staunch supporter of Sonia Gandhi, but all is not well between the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

Laloo Prasad is learnt to be miffed with the Congress leadership and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at a time when both parties are engaged in a subtle battle to protect their respective political space in Bihar.

Sources close to the Bihar leader said he is peeved with the Prime Minister mainly for what Laloo Prasad considers as failure to defend his induction into the cabinet as railway minister while the BJP is baying for his blood on the ground that he is one of the “tainted” ministers.

In Bangkok, the Prime Minister had rejected the BJP’s logic and in a “roundabout” manner justified the presence of the four “tainted” ministers in the government, but RJD sources said Singh could have been more forthright.

They feel that by talking about the need to have a debate to stop “tainted” persons from becoming ministers, the Prime Minister has lent some degree of credence to the NDA campaign against the RJD ministers.

The railway minister is also unhappy with Singh for not announcing a financial package for Bihar after his tour of flood-hit areas of the state on July 27. The Prime Minister “promised all possible help” but did not make public any concrete plan, the RJD sources said.

A stickler for rules, Singh had said the quantum of assistance would be determined only after the visit of a high-level team (likely on August 3) to the affected areas.

The state government had demanded Rs 7,200 crore for relief and rehabilitation.

Unhappy with the stand, both Laloo Prasad and chief minister Rabri Devi stayed away from Singh’s press conference in Patna while other central ministers from Bihar attended.

However, the RJD sources said Laloo Prasad is unlikely to kick up a row over these issues. But he is trying to do a Mulayam Singh Yadav on the Congress in Bihar. By zealously guarding his turf, the Samajwadi Party chief has made it difficult for the Congress to retrieve its lost ground in Uttar Pradesh.

The RJD chief is creating a situation to ensure that the Congress does not revive its fortunes in Bihar. His ploy is to swear by secularism and keep Sonia and a few Congressmen happy in Delhi while not yielding an inch in Bihar.

Elections to the 243-member Bihar Assembly are likely in about six months and Laloo Prasad may not give more than 30 to 35 seats to the Congress, going by his Lok Sabha formula under which he yielded only four seats to the national party.

A vocal section of Bihar Congress leaders is demanding that the party snap ties with the RJD and go it alone in the Assembly polls.

CWC member Harikesh Bahadur, who visited Patna last week, said the alliance was a “necessity” in the national context to fight communal forces, but added that all options are open.

Addressing the Congress’ state executive meeting, he said “the party high command will take a judicious decision keeping in mind their sentiments”.

State Congress president Ram Jatan Sinha lamented that the party got only four seats in the Lok Sabha though it deserved much more. He claimed that the scenario had changed now and the party’s popularity graph in the state was rising fast.

Congress legislature party leader Vijay Shankar Dubey had also said that the party should go it alone in the Assembly elections.

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