The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ranchi sneeze gives Laloo a cold

March 3: Will the controversy over government formation in Jharkhand cast its shadow on Bihar' Constitutional experts think it will not. But the Congress is convinced it will.

Gung-ho till last evening about putting UPA governments in place in Ranchi and Patna, the party is having a rethink after the NDA went on the offensive today.

Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Laloo Prasad Yadav is likely to stake claim in Patna 'shortly', sources close to him said after he extracted a letter of support from the Congress. With the backing of the Left parties (CPM and CPI), the NCP and the BSP, the RJD has 94 MLAs on its list, two more than the BJP-Janata Dal (United).

Even so, it is 28 short of the halfway mark, which was why RJD sources said there would be no 'zabardasti' (forcible manipulation) on their part. 'Our position is clear. No other party/combination is staking claim. The RJD is the single largest party and the largest alliance, so we are going ahead,' Patna MP Ram Kripal Yadav said.

But Congress sources said the emerging view was the governor should play by the rulebook and invite whoever will be able to prove majority. The twice-bitten Congress ' in Goa and Jharkhand ' is unwilling to risk a third strike on it by the NDA, especially when Parliament is in session.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, sources said, feel the immediate task is to ensure Parliament resumes normal functioning.

Bihar Governor Buta Singh assured two non-RJD delegations he would act within the boundaries set by the Constitution.

Ram Vilas Paswan, who has emerged as kingmaker, led all his party's MLAs to Raj Bhavan and requested Buta Singh not to invite either the BJP or the RJD. 'We also urged the governor to provide security to the new MLAs because some of them are getting threats from sections of the RJD that want them to support Laloo Prasad. The governor assured us protection,' he said.

The CPI-ML, with seven legislators, vowed to oppose the RJD in the Assembly. 'Our delegation met the governor and urged him not to impose an RJD-led minority government on Bihar. He gave us assurance,' CPI-ML leader Dipankar Bhattacharya said.

By evening, at least six Independents had also met Buta Singh and told him they were not with the RJD.

Until yesterday, the Congress's instinct was Laloo Prasad's 'political management' could succeed in Patna. But with its own strategists, Ajit Jogi and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, failing hopelessly against the BJP's anti-Jharkhand propaganda, the Congress has got cold feet on Laloo Prasad as well.

Sources said it was still uncertain whether the Pratapsinh Rane government would pass the test of strength in Goa. The role of Independents in Jharkhand is also the subject of speculation. Now with Paswan, the CPI (ML) and the Samajwadi Party taking a hard line, Laloo Prasad's prospects appear bleak.

BJP spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said he was 'unsure' when the NDA would press its claim but insisted that the governor should invite the coalition first because it was the largest pre-poll tie-up.

Constitutional experts dismissed the debate on pre- and post-poll alliances as 'irrelevant'. Rajeev Dhawan said: 'There is no difference between a pre-poll and post-poll alliance. What is important is for the leader of a legislature party/combination to win the confidence of the Assembly. The governor should see who can give a stable majority.'

P.P. Rao cited the example of 1996 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was invited because he headed the largest party, the BJP. 'What happened then' He could not prove his majority.' Rao said the 'proper' course in case of a hung Assembly is to secure letters of support from the claimants and see who might reach the halfway mark.

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