The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP swoops on sparring ministers
- Cong forced on backfoot after rival writes to Speaker on Laloo-Paswan spat

New Delhi, Nov. 29: Manmohan Singh is concerned that a spat between senior cabinet colleagues Laloo Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan two days before Parliament's winter session begins will provide fodder to the BJP-led Opposition.

The Congress, which until this evening had felt that the quarrel between railway minister Laloo Prasad and chemicals and fertiliser minister Paswan could help it wangle more seats for the coming Bihar elections, was forced on the defensive by a quick-moving BJP which has seized on the spat.

The Congress rethink was prompted by the BJP decision to discuss the quarrel in Parliament. V.K. Malhotra, the BJP deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, has shot off a letter to Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, describing the quarrel between the ministerial colleagues as a 'ridiculous situation' that amounted to 'constitutional impropriety'.

'We have written to the Speaker seeking to move an adjournment motion on the issue on December 2. After all, the cabinet has a collective responsibility and this sort of infighting among ministers is against this very concept,' Malhotra said.

He added that Singh needed to explain 'how this kind of infighting is being overlooked and why no steps are being taken to deal with this kind of situation'.

Lok Janshakti Party chief Paswan today hinted he would ask the Prime Minister to restrain the Rashtriya Janata Dal president. Laloo Prasad yesterday alleged that the LJP chief had been involved in dubious deals worth Rs 800 crore during his 1996-97 stint as railway minister. Paswan was accused of stashing away the money in a Swiss bank.

An angry LJP chief today dared Laloo Prasad to order a CBI probe, adding that if it was proved that 'he took even Rs 8, he would quit politics'.

Until the BJP moved in for the kill, the Congress had felt the quarrel between the United Progressive Alliance partners would help it drive a tougher bargain in Bihar with Laloo Prasad. The latter is becoming increasingly nervous over Paswan's attempt to poach his territory.

The Congress had downplayed the Bihar leaders' feud, saying: 'It is dynamics of regional politics. We as an organisation are not in a position to comment.' Party spokesperson Anand Sharma had said Singh would take note of the fight, adding that the UPA coordination committee was the appropriate forum to deal with it.

Sharma said Laloo Prasad and Paswan had fought the Lok Sabha polls as allies, adding: 'When there are different parties in a coalition, there could be contradictions.'

But the Congress now fears the ministers' spat could provide a handle to the BJP, which had no issue to seize upon until now. However, it feels the quarrel could still help the party in Bihar in the long run.

Laloo Prasad sounded out CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan on a Bihar alliance on Saturday. During May's Lok Sabha polls, the RJD chief had forged an alliance with the Congress, CPM and the LJP, refusing to accommodate the CPI.

The RJD gave the LJP eight seats and just four to the Congress. Equating one Lok Sabha seat with seven Assembly seats, the Congress would ordinarily have got just 28 Assembly tickets.

But with Paswan falling out with Laloo Prasad, the Congress will pitch for 50 to 60 seats. If the RJD chief refuses, the Congress could ally with the LJP.

Party sources say Laloo Prasad needs the Congress at the Centre as much as the latter needs him, adding that he cannot pull out of the UPA government even if the Congress allies with the LJP.

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