The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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George hold on party weakens

New Delhi, April 14: Nitish Kumar’s bid to purge the Samata Party of George Fernandes’ supporters may or may not split the party immediately, but the move has eroded the defence minister’s clout in Bihar politics and weakened his grip on national politics as NDA convener.

Though the Fernandes camp here today dared the railway minister to split the 12-member parliamentary party, a breach would reduce the defence minister to being the leader of a ragtag outfit, diminishing his stature in the NDA.

The Samata’s Bihar executive committee meeting –- attended by Kumar’s supporters -– had yesterday adopted a resolution expelling two MPs and three legislators owing allegiance to Fernandes.

The defence minister, however, ignored the warning signals emanating from Kumar’s actions. According to analysts, Kumar had adopted a two-pronged strategy of isolating and axing pro-Fernandes leaders while steadily consolidating his grip on Bihar turf.

All the while, Fernandes was happy playing national politics, becoming the Prime Minister’s troubleshooter. He took the lead in placating Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, much to the chagrin of Kumar.

As a result, the railway minister slowly grew closer to deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, who himself was not keen on Mamata’s return to the government.

Speculation was also rife that a wary Advani did not relish the thought of Fernandes being “number two” in the NDA, a position the defence minister tried to earmark for himself.

The ground reality now is that Kumar has virtually taken control of the Samata in its mainstay of Bihar. As a result, Fernandes’ space for political manoeuvrability after the Lok Sabha polls next year stands considerably whittled.

He will not only find it difficult to identify a winning constituency now, but also to wangle one of the weighty ministries.

Sources in the Fernandes camp, however, put up a brave front and dared Kumar to split the parliamentary party. “Of the 12 Lok Sabha MPs, eight are supporting Fernandes,” a loyalist said.

The sources also claimed at least 10 Bihar MLAs did not turn up at yesterday’s state meeting though 25 of the 30 legislators had backed Kumar earlier.

The defence minister has been quiet about yesterday’s development in Patna, though his supporters are pressing him to hit back.

Short of making the split official, the state council, executive and legislature party meetings in Patna have sent out the clear message that Kumar wants to capture the Bihar unit.

Samata general secretary Satish Kumar, who is an MLA, unnerved the Fernandes camp further by saying: “Samata Party is synonymous with Nitish Kumar, and those opposed to this are free to quit.”

Satish also said: “The entire state unit stood solidly behind Nitish Kumar and those showing disrespect and challenging his authority would be thrown out of the party.”

The point was driven home by a big banner displayed at the meeting venue that read: “Samata Party is Nitish Kumar and Nitish Kumar is Samata Party.”

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