The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong vexed by Bihar chief

New Delhi, June 15: Less than a week has passed since Sonia Gandhi appointed Ram Jatan Sinha as president of the Bihar Congress, but the party leadership is already beginning to wonder if its choice of unit chief was correct following statements made by him on the RJD alliance.

Sinha’s alleged links with the upper caste Ranbir Sena are not the cause for worry. Four years ago, Sonia had witnessed the intensity of Dalit ire at Sinha’s mere presence when he accompanied her to Narayanpur, where 11 Dalits had been massacred by Sena activists.

Nor is it unknown that this five-time MLA does not get on well with Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav. The Congress high command surely did not wish to make Laloo Prasad think that it was considering snapping ties with the RJD or withdrawing its ministers from the Rabri Devi government.

On the contrary, until recently, the central leadership was inclined to continue with Shakeel Ahmad, a state Cabinet minister, as the unit chief. “It helps to be in the government to rebuild the party,” was how a senior party functionary had put it.

But with R.K. Dhawan’s entry as AICC general secretary in charge of Bihar, the assessment seems to have changed within two months.

Perhaps the only reason for promoting Sinha from state unit vice-president to its chief was that he belongs to the Bhumihar community, which has over the years provided leadership to the Bihar Congress.

The high command must have reckoned his aggression would help woo the influential Bhumihars back to the party and away from the BJP. If the political engineering succeeded, it could provide the edge to the Congress-RJD alliance during next year’s Lok Sabha election. After all, the upper castes, including Bhumihars, have been at loggerheads with Laloo Prasad since the latter became chief minister 13 years ago.

Sinha’s elevation was, thus, meant to strengthen the alliance in the state, not signal its end. The new Bihar chief is aware of the high command’s strat- egy, but his penchant for talking may land him and his party in trouble.

When Sinha arrived at the party headquarters a day after his appointment, a senior Congress leader advised him: “Aap jyaada baat mat kariye, kaam kariye. Baat karne ka kaam high command par chhod dijiye (Work, don’t talk. Leave the talking to the high command).”

The value of this advice was evident when Sinha interacted with the media at the AICC headquarters on Thursday. He was at his free-flowing best, expressing views that Laloo Prasad or his own party would never embrace, be it about the RJD alliance or caste-dominated politics in the state.

When he realised the poss-ible repurcussions of his utterances, Sinha urged everyone to ignore his remarks and give him a chance to settle down in his new job.

Central leaders are worried about his tendency to speak without weighing the pros and cons.

It is understood that Sinha was given a talking-to by senior leaders after his latest gaffe.

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