Abdul Bari Siddiqui (second from right) addresses a news meet at the RJD office in Patna on Monday with the six MLAs (not all in picture) who have denied allegations of quitting the party. Picture by Ashok Sinha
Patna, Feb. 24: Bihar today led the way in pre-election shenanigans with 13 MLAs belonging to Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) being notified “unattached” members by the Assembly Speaker after they submitted a signed petition stating that they no longer wished to be part of the party.
But within hours, leader of the RJD in the Assembly Abdul Bari Siddiqui paraded six of those MLAs and denied that they had signed any petition asking to be notified as a separate group.
Siddiqui charged chief minister Nitish Kumar with “engineering a conspiracy” and asked how Speaker Uday Narayan Chaudhary had allowed the notification of a separate group when at least 15 of the RJD’s 22 MLAs needed to break out to escape the anti-defection law.
The split gives much-needed breathing space to Nitish’s minority government which is dependent on the whimsical Independents for survival.
Siddiqui said the six MLAs had told him they had not signed any petition. “Apparently the MLAs had signed a petition for Samrat Choudhary, who made them believe it was to request Lalu Prasad to give him (Samrat) a Lok Sabha ticket from Khagaria and also for a call attention in the recently concluded Assembly session,” Siddiqui said. “Nitish Kumar is leading a minority government and he is indulging in horse-trading,” he added.
Siddiqui added that the Speaker should have verified from each MLA before issuing such a notification. “We have called an emergency meeting of our MLAs at 12 noon on Tuesday,” Siddiqui said. “The few RJD MLAs who have been part of the conspiracy will lose their membership.”
The dramatic developments have come as a shock for the embattled Lalu, who already faces the prospect of losing a key ally in Ram Vilas Paswan to the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.
The RJD boss, who is in New Delhi, was giving TV bites reaching out to Paswan to join the fight against “communalism” when news of the split hit him. “Report mila hai. Pata kar rahe hai. Sab sahi nahi haiÖ” (Got the report. Finding out. It is not entirely trueÖ),” Lalu said and rushed into his room at his 25 Tughlak Road residence. He was glued to the news channels for some time while his lieutenant, Prem Gupta, got busy on the phone. Lalu remained indoors and tried to reach out to his leaders in Bihar over phone.
The drama unfolded around 12.30pm with the notification of the Speaker. The chief architect of the split and RJD’s chief whip in the Assembly, Samrat Choudhary, and another MLA, Javed Iqbal Ansari, celebrated the occasion by distributing sweets among their followers.
“We had given an application to the Speaker on February 14 that we no longer have faith in the RJD and we should be either allowed to merge with the JD(U) or be treated as a separate group. The Speaker has issued the notification today,” Samrat told The Telegraph.
Samrat, who had accompanied Nitish to Khagaria yesterday, alleged that Lalu was more concerned with the welfare of the Congress. “The RJD has become a B-team of the Congress and it has become a private company rather than a political party,” he said.
Samrat, the son of former Congress, Samata Party and RJD leader Shakuni Choudhary, denied that any fraud had been committed when pointed out that at least six of the 13 MLAs were now claiming that they did not sign the petition. “I did not sign on their behalf in the petition,” he said.
However, Lalu can take some consolation from the fact that most MLAs belonging to his core votebase — Muslims and Yadavs — returned to the fold immediately. Of the five Muslim MLAs who were in the list of 13, three turned up at Siddiqui’s news meet to deny defection. Two of the three Yadavs also followed suit.
For Lalu, the wheels have turned full circle. In the early 1990s, Lalu split the BJP block in the Assembly after the party threatened to withdraw support to his government following the arrest of LK Advani in Samastipur while he was on his Ram Rath Yatra. The splinter group was recognised by the Speaker, though it did not have the required numbers to escape the anti-defection law.