The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rebels gun for Nitish scalp

Patna, Jan. 29: The Samata Party in Bihar appears to be heading for a split with its former state unit president, Raghunath Jha, threatening to end railway minister “Nitish Kumar’s fief in the party”.

Thousands of party workers, including five Samata MLAs, greeted Jha as his plane landed in Patna airport last evening after an overseas tour. All five legislators are known to be supporters of the party’s rival faction, headed by defence minister George Fernandes.

The reception at the airport gave Jha the necessary encouragement to launch a tirade against Nitish. “I will not stop before I restore (the) democratic rights of the party’s ordinary workers. I am in no mood to be cowed down by Nitish Kumar’s high-handedness,” Jha said.

Jha’s convoy of nearly 200 cars took a trip around the capital with his supporters shouting anti-Nitish slogans. During brief stopovers near the Income Tax building and the statue of Jaiprakash Narayan, Jha continued with his Nitish-bashing.

“I had resigned from the party president’s post for the sake of the party’s stability. But Nitish Kumar manoeuvred his way to dissolve the existing state executive body, which was illegal. Everybody in the party is stunned by Kumar’s high-handedness. George Fernandes is also not happy,” he said.

Jha, a prominent member of the “George lobby”, quit his party post last month and opted out of a race for a second term as president of the Samata’s Bihar unit, averting a likely split. He embarked on a foreign trip soon after, during which Nitish Kumar installed Bashistha Narayan Singh as the state unit president and dissolved the state unit’s executive body. Jha said he would meet Fernandes tomorrow and inform him about the party workers’ grievances. “I will then attend a meeting on February 15 to take my decision,” he added.

The George lobby, including the five legislators who joined Jha’s convoy — Sanjiv Singh, Ganesh Paswan, Md. Abdulla, P.K. Sinha and Bhai Virendra — has rallied solidly behind Jha. They claimed that more MLAs were waiting for the right opportunity to air their grievances. “I don’t bother how many MLAs are coming to me. I am more concerned about the rights of the ordinary party workers,” Jha said.

The Samata rebels accused Nitish of instigating infighting in the party at a time when Patna was witnessing one of the most violent protests over the killing of students by police.

“Kumar was actually helping Laloo Yadav by intensifying paroxysms in the party,” said former party spokesman P.K. Sinha, who was unceremoniously removed from his post by Nitish.

Nitish supporters countered Jha was planning to join Laloo Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal. They said a relative of Laloo Yadav was among those present at the airport to receive Jha.

Speculations on Jha’s next move stem from the fact that the former state Samata chief is a Lok Sabha member from Gopalgunge, a Brahmin-dominated constituency that the RJD wants to wrest control of with Jha’s help.

“I am not going anywhere. That is the gossip being spread by my own party detractors,” said Jha.

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