| Fernandes: Big blow
Patna, April 11: Sharad Yadav was today elected president of the Janata Dal (U), defeating incumbent George Fernandes in a poll marred by controversy following the last-minute removal of the returning officer and boycott by Fernandes and his loyalists.
Yadav, the party’s central parliamentary board chairman, secured 413 votes against Fernandes’s 25 as 10 votes were declared invalid and 123 registered voters did not exercise their franchise, Subhash Srivastava, the returning officer, announced.
Srivastava was appointed returning officer after Fernandes loyalist Aneel Hegde was removed by the national executive minutes before national council members began voting to elect a new president.
The contest took place after all attempts by senior party leaders, including Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who backed Yadav, to bring about a rapprochement between the stalwarts came a cropper.
Though Fernandes, who arrived here from New Delhi this morning, met Kumar at his official residence for a couple of hours, a compromise could not be reached.
Insiders said Yadav insisted on an election, refusing even to meet Fernandes at Kumar’s residence. He left for his hotel minutes before Fernandes arrived for the meeting.
He rejected outright an offer by the Fernandes camp to allow the veteran leader to get re-elected as a “face-saver” before resigning a couple of months later on health grounds.
The polling by the newly-elected national council began six hours behind the scheduled start at 11 am. A hurriedly called meeting of the national executive decided to remove Hegde who went “missing” after shooting off a letter to Yadav.
The letter was received at Yadav’s house in Delhi at 8 pm yesterday in which Hegde expressed inability to hold the poll and suggested postponing it for three months.
The election saw supporters of the rival candidates trading charges, with those backing Yadav alleging that Hegde wanted to postpone the poll on “flimsy” grounds as he sensed that Fernandes faced defeat.
Fernandes loyalists contested the legality of Hegde’s removal “midway” through the election and alleged it was done to “manipulate” the outcome in Yadav’s favour.
Today’s election has brought to the fore irreconcilable differences within the party barely four months after it stormed to power in Bihar.
It also marks the exit of Fernandes from the helm of affairs in the Dal(U) after over three years in which it emerged as the single largest party in the Bihar Assembly.