The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP’s ally paradox: Strong Centre, weak Bihar

New Delhi, Oct. 26: George Fernandes’ move to reunite the Janata Dal parivar to “strengthen (the) NDA” has the blessings of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, but it is giving the BJP Bihar unit the jitters.

If the Janata Dal (United) and the Samata Party merge, the BJP will lose its status as the main Opposition party in the Assembly.

Though Fernandes’ plan has not made much headway with other Janata splinters like the Indian National Lok Dal and the Biju Janata Dal (INLD), sources said Dal (U) and Samata leaders are working out the modalities for a union. The new entity will retain the name of the Janata Dal (United), but Fernandes will replace Sharad Yadav as its president. The arrow will be its election symbol.

The merger will not only catapult the Dal (U) as the main Opposition party in Bihar at the cost of the BJP, but also make it difficult for rebels in both the Samata and the Dal (U) to split the respective parties in the Lok Sabha. The Samata Party has 30 MLAs in the Bihar Assembly and the Dal (U) 12. After a merger, they will have 42 legislators as against the BJP’s 35.

According to the sources, one of the factors driving the proposal is the concern of Fernandes, his party colleague, Nitish Kumar, and Sharad Yadav over the “serious” plans of disgruntled MPs to split the parties.

The Prime Minister and his deputy are equally wary as the splits would further weaken the NDA in Bihar, especially when general elections are drawing close. A unification of the Janata parivar, or at least the Samata-Dal (U) merger, will make it difficult for the dissidents to further carve up their respective parties.

At the behest of Nitish Kumar, Fernandes had expelled two rebels — Raghunath Jha and Brahmanand Mandal — from the Samata Party in May. But curiously, the Lok Sabha Speaker has not been informed in writing of their expulsion. They could split the 12-member Samata parliamentary party by wooing just two more members.

The sources said Jha is negotiating with Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav for a ticket from Gopalganj. He is also being wooed by the Congress and the BJP.

Similarly, the Dal (U) is beset with dissidence. Senior members Devendra Prasad Yadav, Nawal Kishore Rai and Dinesh Yadav are talking to both Laloo Prasad and the Congress. If the troubled parties unite, the dissidents will find it difficult to muster the numbers — they can do so now easily — to break away.

“They (Fernandes, Kumar, and Sharad Yadav) think that reunification may not only thwart attempts to split the parties, it would also strengthen their electoral base and, hence, make it easier for them to win their respective Lok Sabha seats. While Fernandes has the option of trying his luck outside Bihar, courtesy the BJP, the Samajwadi Party and the Shiv Sena, Kumar and Sharad yadav are faced with a limited choice. The food minister’s position is more pitiable with starvation deaths being reported from his Madhepura constituency,” said a Dal (U) source.

After the first merger meeting at Fernandes’ residence on October 15, the sources said Fernandes and Sharad yadav came out as the keenest on the merger, while the others were not interested. An aide of INLD chief Om Prakash Chautala ruled out chances of joining the front “as we have no political stimulus to be in this group”. Chautala met Fernandes to discuss the Rajasthan elections and not to discuss joining the front, he added.

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