Lalu Prasad on a rickshaw outside Raj Bhavan in Patna on Tuesday. Picture by Nagendra Kumar Singh
Patna, Feb. 25: Lalu Prasad flew in to Patna from New Delhi on Tuesday morning to quell the rebellion in his party and within hours claimed that he had the support of nine of the 13 MLAs who were notified as “unattached members” by the Assembly Speaker yesterday.
Lalu marched with these nine members to the Assembly and handed over letters of support from them to the Assembly secretary. The RJD chief also claimed the support of one more of the remaining four rebel legislators. The party has decided to issue showcause notices to the three still holding out.
Speaker Uday Narayan Chaudhary had yesterday issued a notification declaring 13 of the 22 RJD MLAs as a separate group of “unattached” members. But within hours of his announcement, RJD legislature party leader Abdul Bari Siddiqui got back six of the MLAs, saying they had not signed any application asking to be recognised as a breakaway group of the RJD.
Showman and meticulous and deft political operator — both attributes were on full display today as Lalu first marched two kilometres on foot from his 10 Circular Road to the Assembly in the afternoon, accompanied by hundreds of supporters shouting slogans against chief minister Nitish Kumar and Choudhary.
The theatrics continued as he rode a rickshaw from the Assembly to Raj Bhavan where Lalu submitted a petition to Governor DY Patil against the Speaker.
But the showman was fully armed with all technical instruments to expose the “farce”. Lalu had nine of the 13 “rebel” MLAs parading with him. The deft operator in him ensured that he had got the separate letters individually written and signed by the MLAs personally. He made the MLAs to individually present themselves before the Speaker’s secretary, Phul Jha, one by one handing over their letters and receiving nine separate receipts.
The letters read: “Speaker sir, I am an RJD MLA and have full faith in the RJD. My signature was taken for some other purposes. But I am shocked and surprised to learn that the same has been used to declare me unattached through your notification. I request you to nullify the notification with immediate effect.”
RJD legislature party leader Abdul Bari Siddiqui too submitted separate letters to the governor and the Assembly secretary quoting relevant sections of the 91st amendment to the Anti-Defection Act, which says that the Speaker could not create a separate block of 13 MLAs. “Consequent upon the omission of paragraph three (which dealt with the issue of split in the original party earlier), it is not permissible to claim a split in the party,” Siddiqui’s letter said.
By the end of the day, Speaker Choudhary, who had stood firm in the morning, appeared to have mellowed. “None of the RJD MLAs has claimed that their signatures were forged. I took the decision on the basis of their petition that was duly signed. Now, I have received fresh applications from nine MLAs on the basis of which I will take an appropriate decision,” he said.
Sources, both in the JD(U) as well as in the RJD, interpreted the Speaker’s words as his intention to “re-think” on the notification. “Re-thinking will eventually lead the Speaker either to declare the notification void or not to execute it,” said an Assembly source.
Lalu, who had appeared downcast when he reached Patna around 9 in the morning, had a spring in his step as the day wore on.
“Nitish and Udai Narayan Choudhary have effectively been trapped in the web they had themselves weaved to snare the RJD. The chief minister and Speaker, who had hatched the conspiracy to split the RJD, have fallen in their own trap. Duniya unpar thu thu kar rahi hai (The world is spitting on their sins),” Lalu declared.
Nitish, who was in Delhi for the third front meeting, rebutted the allegations. “I cannot stop people from making allegations…but a few cracks are appearing in the RJD,” Nitish said on his arrival in Delhi, breaking his silence since the news of the split broke yesterday. “If people are leaving the RJD to join is, we are happy to accept them,” he added.
Rabri Devi and other RJD leaders were said to have spent a sleepless night. After Lalu reached Patna, he went into a huddle with senior party strategists, including former Union minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, some senior lawyers and began calling his MLAs on phone.
By 1.30pm, Lalu had nine of the 13 MLAs with him at his 10 Circular Road home. At 2pm, he marched on the streets with the MLAs, cadres and supporters. By 6pm, Lalu had ended his show appearing before the reporters to announce his victory.
“We have come out stronger now. The highhandedness on the part of Udai Narayan Choudhary and Nitish Kumar has generated sympathy for us among the masses,” declared RJD MP Ramkripal Yadav.
The party has issued showcause notice to three MLAs — Samrat Choudhary, Javed Iqbal Ansari and Akhtarul Iman — asking them to explain within a week why action should not be taken against them for indulging in anti-party activities.
Lalu said Raghavendra Pratap Singh, the MLA from Barhara, had phoned him and also Siddiqui expressing faith in the party.