The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Samata storm ebbs as Nitish thorn quits

New Delhi/Patna, Jan. 10: The Samata Party’s Bihar unit chief, Raghunath Jha, quit his post today giving the party a fresh lease of life as it threatened to run out.

Party president George Fernandes swallowed his pride and directed his confidant, Jha, to step down, as demanded by Samata leader Nitish Kumar and his supporters.

The resignation became public at the Samata parliamentary party meeting that Fernandes called in Delhi today. Kumar and nine others of the party’s 14 MPs were present. According to sources, Jha submitted his resignation last night as the sparring between Fernandes and Kumar over the Bihar turf threatened to split the party.

At the nearly four-hour long meeting today, Kumar’s camp aired its grievances. They complained that Kumar had been marginalised in the party; he was kept out of the January 3 NDA meeting in Patna to chalk out an agitation strategy against the Patna “encounter” deaths.

The defence minister blamed “communication gap” for the misunderstanding and offered to step down and hand over the mantle to Kumar.

The Samata leaders, including Kumar, said they would not hear of it for they had full faith in him. Kumar clarified he had never eyed the top job.

After reaching Patna later in the day, Kumar said: “There is no vacancy for the Samata Party’s presidentship as long as Fernandes is there. If I am allowed to have my say, he will continue to lead the party for a long time.”

Some disgruntled Samata members took the opportunity today to criticise the party’s pro-BJP tilt, especially after the Godhra carnage. The “socialists in the party were feeling upset”, they said. Some complained that the Samata parliamentary party hardly met ever and the party lacked democracy within. They alleged that the party is run by proxy. Samata sources, however, said the Kumar camp’s main grouse was the party’s failure to accord their leader the number two position in the party.

Kumar may have got his pound of flesh today, but the main beneficiaries of Samata’s internal tussle are Laloo Prasad Yadav, the Rashtriya Janata Dal chief, and Bihar’s Rabri Devi government.

The NDA’s Bihar unit was planning a big agitation in the state over the recent “encounter” deaths of three youths in Patna.

Jha’s resignation has more or less put the Samata in Bihar into Kumar’s hands. For now, Vasishth Narayan Singh, a Kumar loyalist, will serve as the Bihar unit’s convener. He will stay on till a new state chief is elected in organisational polls by April-end.

Narayan will also oversee the ongoing membership drive and facilitate the organisational polls. Mangni Lal Mandal, another Kumar loyalist, is likely to be elected the Bihar unit president. Last week, party general secretary Satish Kumar, a Kumar protégé, had sacked P. K. Sinha, a Fernandes loyalist, as Bihar spokesperson, threatening an open turf war.

The Kumar camp had insisted on Jha’s resignation and threatened to call a party state council meeting on January 19 to elect a new Bihar unit chief. The proposed meeting has now been called off.

Jha, who did not attend today’s parliamentary party meeting, is away on a foreign tour with a Parliament delegation. In Patna, Kumar quelled the “rumour” over a newspaper report that Fernandes would shift his constituency to Karnataka from Nalanda in Bihar.

“The elections are far away. Such decisions are taken only at the time of elections,” he said.

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