The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Janata jinx: Single merger, double split

New Delhi, Dec. 19: One “grand” merger and two splits: that sums up the saga of yet another upheaval in the crisis-prone Janata parivar.

As the 12-member Samata Party formally merged with the six-member Janata Dal (United) today to mark the launch of a “major unity” move, the two could not even retain their combined strength of 18 at the end of the day, let alone welcome new members.

The Samata lost two of its Lok Sabha MPs, Brahmanand Mandal and Raghunath Jha, and the JD (U) two, Devendra Prasad Yadav and Shashi Kumar. This left the latest avatar of the JD (U) with only 14 MPs.

Defence minister and NDA convener George Fernandes will head the re-united party while JD (U) leader Sharad Yadav will chair the parliamentary board. Fernandes was authorised to constitute the new national executive and appoint state unit presidents in consultation with Yadav and other senior leaders, said spokesman Shiv Kumar.

Devendra Prasad and Shashi Kumar declared themselves members of a new party called the Janata Dal (U) Democratic. The Samata members, however, decided to remain with the parent party and not merge with the JD (U).

In both cases, the provisions of the 97th constitutional amendment, which became law yesterday and will be deemed to come into effect once the President signs on the dotted line, will not apply. The amendment does not recognise a one-third split in the parliamentary/legislature party and any member wanting to split will lose his membership until he is re-elected on the symbol of the party he wishes to join or as an Independent.

The JD (U) breakaway group was already recognised as a separate party by the Lok Sabha Speaker with effect from December 12. The Election Commission was also notified of the split. This is most likely to be the last legal split in parliamentary history.

As for the Samata, Mandal — who met the press as the “grand” unity was taking place not far from his house — said that under the Constitution one MP or MLA is enough to represent the party in the House even if the rest decide to coalesce with another political entity.

He quoted the Supreme Court ruling in the All Party Hill Leaders’ Conference versus Captain W.A. Sangma and others case which said “not even majority of members or top leaders can sign the death warrant of the entire party, if minority number of members are opposed to merger and wish to continue with the original party”.

The new defection law is silent on mergers.

As the JD (U) spokesman claimed that Mandal and Jha “were and are members of our party”, the former met the Election Commission this evening, asking that they be allowed to remain as the Samata with its statutory recognition and reserved symbol. The JD (U) will have its own symbol of an arrow and use the Samata flag.

Arithmetic apart, the move — which came two months after the Samata and the JD (U) decided to get their act together and re-merge to put up a joint show against Laloo Prasad Yadav — was fraught with political implications for the National Democratic Alliance and the BJP.

Fernandes and Sharad Yadav’s original proposal was to rope in the three-member breakaway faction of the RJD (Democratic), the two-member Janata Dal (JP), the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), the Indian Federal Democratic Party and even the Trinamul Congress.

While Trinamul remained a pipedream, Fernandes had several meetings with INLD leader Om Prakash Chautala. NDA sources said Chautala politely told him to first get his own house in order after which he “would see”.

NDA sources said the RJD (Democratic) --- comprising Nagmani, Sukhdev Paswan and Anwar-ul-Haque --- were on the verge of joining the BJP. Nagmani campaigned for the BJP in the recent Assembly elections while Haque ensured the party’s win from Bihar’s Sitamarhi in the bypolls by “neutralising” the Muslim vote which would have otherwise gone to the RJD. Even JD (JP) MPs Captain Jai Narain Nishad and Ramesh Jighjigane could go with the BJP, said sources.

That the BJP and not the JD (U) was perceived as the fulcrum of opposition politics in Bihar was evident from reports that Lok Janshakti leader Ram Vilas Paswan was renegotiating his entry into the NDA with the BJP’s Pramod Mahajan.

The only stumbling block, said sources, was JD (U) leader Nitish Kumar’s reported opposition to Paswan’s condition that he should be projected as the NDA leader in Bihar.

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