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Paswan sounds PM, Nitish cries off

New Delhi, April 9: Ram Vilas Paswan today called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh amid speculation that efforts were on to form a United Progressive Alliance government in deadlocked Bihar, but the Lok Janshakti Party chief refused to reveal details.

LJP sources said Paswan has also sought an appointment with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and could meet her in a day or two.

Paswan's meeting with Singh to discuss the Bihar situation came after his talks last night with UPA ally Sharad Pawar which raised hopes of a thaw in the LJP's relationship with the Rashtriya Janata Dal. RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav had asked Pawar ' who like the LJP president is his colleague in the Union cabinet ' to hold talks with Paswan. But Paswan still swears by a non-RJD, non-BJP government.

If Paswan's meetings set off a buzz, the other main figure in the thick of the Bihar impasse virtually ruled out snapping ties with the BJP. Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar announced he was ending all efforts to form a government because of Paswan's 'intransigence'.

'I am withdrawing my efforts for government formation as its chances are very bleak because of intransigence of Paswan over taking support from the non-RJD parties,' said Nitish, who had earlier written to non-RJD parties and Independents to join hands to form a government.

Nitish's announcement, on a day when 15 of the 17 Independent MLAs pledged support to him and a day before the Dal (U)'s national executive begins in Delhi, left analysts confused.

While LJP sources said the announcement was 'more an admission of defeat', their counterparts in the rival NDA camp said it was a clever ploy to wean away restive LJP legislators.

Between April 4 and 5, Nitish, sources said, had dialled Paswan's number thrice, but he refused to talk. Later, senior Dal (U) leader Prabhunath Singh had phoned Paswan nine times, but the Union minister did not come on the line. The message was loud and clear: no more interactions with the Dal (U) as long as it was in the BJP-led NDA.

Analysts said Nitish, by making a public declaration that he was ending efforts to break the Bihar deadlock because of Paswan, is trying to put pressure on the LJP chief.

Fearing that the Dal (U) might try to split his 29-member party, Paswan had last fortnight dissolved the Bihar unit, thereby pre-empting any unilateral decision by the state unit. Yesterday, Paswan set up a three-member central disciplinary committee to keep watch on his flock in Bihar.

Bihar watchers, however, differ on their interpretation of the anti-defection law and the possibility of an LJP split.

An NDA leader said Paswan, by dissolving the state unit and concentrating all powers in himself as the party's national president, cannot avert a split. Others said only the MLAs and a leader elected by them could take the decision and that the new law does not recognise the national president of a state party like the LJP. The MLAs, they added, could extend support to Nitish in a signed affidavit.

Sources in the LJP, however, said only the Speaker of an Assembly could recognise a split. As former Speaker Sadanand Singh, a Congressman, is continuing for administrative purposes, neither he nor governor Buta Singh, also a Congressman, would facilitate any such move by the NDA.

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