The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia somersault in Bihar

Patna, June 10: Ram Jatan Sinha’s rise to the post of Bihar Congress chief has sparked speculation over the party’s motive as Sonia Gandhi had snubbed the Bhumihar leader four years ago.

On February 13, 1999, relatives of the victims of a massacre in Narayanpur, Bihar, had mobbed Sonia, angry that Sinha was accompanying her.

The Dalits complained that Sinha had links with the Ranbir Sena, a landlords’ militia that had butchered 11 of the community in Narayanpur.

Taken aback by the ferociousness of the Dalits’ anger, Sonia had asked Sinha to leave the spot immediately — right in front of a horde of reporters.

Four years later, the Congress president appears to have forgotten the event as well as Sinha’s controversial record because his name has figured in other crimes committed in Jehanabad district.

The Amir Das Commission had called Sinha to testify on his alleged links with the Ranbir Sena.

However, the Congress leadership is apparently more concerned about the increasing agitation of a large number of local party workers, who are demanding an aggressive leader to help regain lost ground in Bihar.

One section considers the move to be the first step by the Congress towards snapping ties with the ruling Rashtriya Janata Dal, in a bid to woo back upper-caste voters.

The advocates of this theory emphasise that Sinha, from troubled Jehanabad, is a known baiter of Laloo Prasad Yadav, the RJD chief.

But they also point out that, despite defeating Laloo Prasad in a college union poll during their Patna University days, Sinha can never politically corner the RJD chief.

Harbouring ambitions ever since to take on Laloo Prasad again, Sinha, however, played safe after taking over from Shakeel Ahmed as state Congress chief.

Sinha ruled out the possibility of his party snapping ties with the RJD, at least for now. “I am not sure. Some decisions are best left to the high command to take,” he said.

But political insiders say there is more to the story than meets the eye.

This is borne out by the other speculation doing the rounds that the Congress is apparently keen to split Bhumihar votes by befriending a percentage of these.

The BJP and the Samata Party, who are National Democratic Alliance partners, are eagerly wooing the community, which has less than 5 per cent votes in the state.

Though the Bhumihars may not be able to decide a poll outcome on their own strength, they can surely prove a deciding factor.

“This group may not be able to ensure victory by their own votes to a candidate, but they definitely would tilt the balance in favour of one and enable him to win. This is why leaders like C.P. Thakur (a Bhumihar) are important for the BJP,” said Sanjeev Sharma, a BJP leader of the Bhumihar caste from Jehanabad.

The BJP, particularly, is reeling from the loss of Kailashpati Mishra, a Bhumihar leader who was the party’s backbone in the state, after he took over as Gujarat Governor.

Laloo Prasad, aware of the BJP’s efforts to win over the community, attended a series of Bhumihar rallies organised by his party minister Akhilesh Singh.

The RJD chief appealed to the Bhumihars to forget the “old acrimony against me” and join hands with him, saying he had profound respect for the “twice-borns”.

According to party insiders, Laloo Prasad was not so much working to corner Bhumihar votes as to engineer a split in their votes so that the prospects of the NDA could be punctured.

The Congress, RJD sources said, had already lost upper-caste votes to the BJP and the party had little chance of regaining them as long as it was allied with the RJD.

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