The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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George, Nitish mismatch over BJP alliance

New Delhi, Oct. 2: The last time, the Samata Party’s internal tussle was over turf control. This time, it is over ally BJP.

Four months after the last faceoff between Nitish Kumar and George Fernandes, differences have cropped up between the two over continuing the party’s alliance with the BJP for the general elections next year.

Kumar is said to be thinking of dumping the BJP to float a new party or merging his faction with the Janata Dal (United) of Union food and public distribution minister Sharad Yadav before the polls. Defence minister Fernandes, however, wants to stick to the NDA.

The last time, Fernandes had yielded the control of Samata’s Bihar unit to Kumar.

Party sources said railway minister Kumar also has the option of tying up with arch rival Laloo Prasad Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

But Kumar has asserted at Hajipur that the media had misquoted him (on September 28) as having said that the Samata “will go it alone in the next Lok Sabha polls”. The Fernandes camp, however, has taken the delayed denial with a pinch of salt.

Party sources said Kumar’s “suspicion” was aroused by a BJP-Fernandes “gameplan” to promote Nagmani, the Union minister for social justice and empowerment, as a backward-caste leader at his cost.

Nagmani is from the numerically strong Koeri (Kushwaha) caste of Other Backward Classes. At 6 per cent in Bihar, his caste base is stronger than Kumar’s, whose Kurmi caste base has shrunk to 3 per cent after the formation of Jharkhand.

According to the Kumar camp, Nagmani is set to join the BJP. Fernandes had played a major role in getting him a Union cabinet berth after he split from the RJD and floated the RJD (Democratic). He was inducted into the Vajpayee cabinet this May.

Stung by the move, Kumar is waiting to hit back. Some in the Samata believe his reported announcement of four days ago and today’s denial are his way of threatening the BJP against taking Nagmani into its fold.

Since February, Nagmani has been hobnobbing with Fernandes, trying to join the Samata. But the defence minister has dissuaded him for fear of a backlash from Kumar.

Nagmani is not a taller leader than Kumar, but he has his father, late Jagdev Prasad Kushwaha, to fall back on. The president of Soshit Samaj Dal who acquired the sobriquet “Lenin of Bihar”, Kushwaha was rated second only to former Bihar chief minister Karpoori Thakur.

Last week, Nagmani organised a public meeting in Patna in his father’s memory and invited senior state BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi to speak.

Nagmani praised Modi as the person who was really standing up to Laloo Prasad, though someone else — implying Kumar — was enjoying the fruit. He also eulogised Modi as the future chief minister of Bihar. Modi reciprocated, saying Nagmani has done for Bihar in three months what no one else has.

The Kumar camp sees a method in this “orchestrated” campaign against the railway minister.

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