The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Laloo latest on PMs’ waiting list

New Delhi, Oct. 14: Laloo Prasad Yadav has thrown his hat in the ring for the Prime Minister’s post, becoming the latest in a growing list of aspirants that is clouding the Congress’ prospects ahead of next year’s general elections.

Addressing Rashtriya Janata Dal workers in Patna a few days ago, the Congress ally declared: “I will become the Prime Minister. I am not saying that I will be Prime Minister tomorrow. I will certainly become Prime Minister one day. If I become Prime Minister, I will solve the Kashmir problem and the Pakistan problem in a week’s time.”

Till recently, Laloo Prasad had been saying all secular parties should unite under the Congress, with its leader (Sonia Gandhi) as Prime Minister.

But last Saturday, there was a subtle shift in his stand. At his party’s national executive, he iterated that all secular parties must unite but was non-committal on the leadership. “Who will be the leader and how the seats will be shared, we will consider,” Laloo Prasad said.

If Laloo Prasad is batting for a distant future, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar are determined to rock the Congress boat. NDA convener and defence minister George Fernandes is also in the race, just in case. Others in the queue are former Prime Ministers H.D. Deve Gowda and Chandra Shekhar.

Much to the BJP’s glee, the Prime Ministers-in-waiting are all from the secular camp and Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin is providing the “glue” for them. Pawar’s latest outburst against Sonia’s foreign roots is part of a well-crafted strategy. To be fair, Laloo Prasad has not yet brought up the issue.

Former Prime Ministers Chandra Shekhar and Gowda are armed with astrological predictions of a second innings.

The aspirants to the top job are also counting on the BJP getting less than 183 seats (its current tally in the Lok Sabha) and the Congress only marginally improving its 109-seat strength, with regional parties belonging to the third front taking away the rest.

Gowda recently sought the blessings of Shekhar, who told him to work hard and get as many seats as possible. Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular) has since become part of a third front for the coming Assembly polls in five states along with Shekhar’s Samajwadi Janata Party, Pawar’s NCP and Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party.

Mulayam Singh is working hard to get 45 to 50 out of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh so that the Samajwadi becomes crucial to the formation of the next government. He is working on a formidable Yadav-Lodh-Muslim-Thakur-Jat-Kurmi vote bank.

If he cannot make it, Shekhar might back Pawar. Astrologers are believed to have told Shekhar that he may get one more chance to be the Prime Minister. The two are in regular touch. The duo is counting on a post-poll split in the Congress and hopes to get the support of the breakaway faction. In such a scenario, Pawar can outsmart Mulayam Singh.

Laloo Prasad surprised political observers on Sunday by lavishing praise on Fernandes for his “development work” in Bihar. Taking part in the inaugural function of two Sainik schools at Rajgir and Gopalganj, he is reported to have traced Fernandes’ contribution to Bihar back to the seventies when he had helped set up a thermal power station in Muzaffarpur. He also praised the NDA convener for the Ragjir ordnance factory.

Analysts said: “Laloo is less certain about the Congress coming back to power now and hence he has opened a line of communication with Fernandes.” This situation suits Fernandes, who is trying his best to wean away potential secular Congress backers.

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