The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Laloo flurry to nip minority revolt

Patna, Oct. 3: Laloo Prasad Yadav, days away from being re-elected chief of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, appears to have nipped in the bud a possible rebellion by a section of minority leaders in the party.

Controversial Siwan MP Mohammad Shahabuddin has been making defiant noises since surrendering to police two months ago in a case relating to the abduction and murder of CPI (M-L) activist Munna Chowdhary.

During his time in jail, the MP had kept in touch with his supporters and sought to portray himself as a “martyr”. He even flaunted a list of RJD leaders who he said supported him.

Rattled by the protests that marked the police crackdown on Shahabuddin and his crowd-pulling ability, Laloo Prasad has sought to reinforce his pro-Muslim credentials.

Just two days before filing his nomination papers at the RJD headquarters here this morning as he seeks to become party chief for the fourth consecutive time, Laloo Prasad appointed Abdul Bari Siddique, a minister in the Rabri Devi government, as state unit chief.

The RJD president has also appointed at least 10 minority leaders as district chiefs. Five more districts may get minority leaders as their chiefs — Laloo Prasad has been authorised to make a final decision.

Amid this flurry of activity, Shahabuddin has been keeping a low profile during the RJD organisational elections, which will conclude by October 11.

Laloo Prasad may be all but certain to be re-elected national president of the RJD, but the leader has been trying to strengthen his base among minorities and reinforce his secular image even more stridently. This has been all the more so since he visited Islamabad to attend an Indo-Pakistan conference as part of the South Asia Free Media Association in August.

The party chief has put Yadavs and Muslims in charge in 25 out of 43 RJD district units to strengthen his party’s Yadav-Muslim support base even as he encourages dynastic politics. He has even replaced former state unit chief Pitambar Paswan, who hails from an extremely backward caste, with a minority leader. This has been done because an alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan for the coming Lok Sabha elections would assure him votes from that segment in any case.

The RJD may not have an impressive track record in administration and governance, but Laloo Prasad has managed to retain his primacy by manipulating the caste arithmetic in the state. The party chief radiates an aura of invincibility, saying he will “surely become Prime Minister one day and resolve Indo-Pak disputes in just seven days”.

Laloo Prasad has faced criticism within his party since he set up the RJD in 1997 after breaking away from the Janata Dal, but has used his charisma and inimitable style of functioning to shore up his image.

But disturbingly for the RJD chief, the most recent criticism has come from minority leaders and party ministers like Ghulam Sarvar, who publicly supported Shahabuddin and asked uncomfortable questions over the decision to corner the Siwan MP.

Purnamasi Ram, a minister from Champaran district, also took to the streets against Laloo Prasad’s style of functioning. But none of the dissenters has managed to spark a revolt.

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