The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bihar script minus princes of Patna

New Delhi, March 7: A cabinet without Laloo Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan recommended President's rule in Bihar at a meeting tonight.

The newly elected Assembly was kept in suspended animation.

Laloo Prasad Yadav, railway minister, was in Delhi for a part of the day but did not stay for the meeting. Ram Vilas Paswan, steel minister, did not even come to Delhi.

Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, a senior minister from Laloo Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal, also stayed away.

Laloo Prasad indicated that his absence was a protest of sorts against the refusal to recognise the RJD's 'legitimate' claim to be invited first as the single largest party.

His party colleague Raghuvansh said he did not go because he had a scheduled ministry meeting that continued far too long.

'I was informed of the cabinet meeting after I returned this afternoon (from Patna). But I had already summoned all the senior officials of my ministry for a meeting on a matter which is a thrust area for the PM,' Raghuvansh said.

Sources in the United Progressive Alliance said Paswan kept off fearing that he may have to 'confront' an irate Laloo Prasad and give an explanation for the Bihar deadlock.

Although a face-off between the allies-turned-adversaries was avoided today, the sources pointed out that sooner rather than later, the two would find themselves at the same table.

As alliance leaders were asking themselves what lay in the future, Laloo Prasad made at least one thing clear. He would not destabilise the government, though he blamed Paswan for his 'intransigence' in blocking the formation of a 'secular' dispensation in Bihar.

'I am not a narrow-minded politician, I will not put forward any such proposal,' Laloo Prasad said about asking the alliance to drop Paswan.

Nor would he personally request alliance leaders to coax Paswan into joining his party to form a government.

The 'rapport' he is supposed to have with Sonia Gandhi, dating back to the days when he spoke out against those who labelled her a 'foreigner', may be under strain. Observers read this sign in Sonia meeting him at the National Advisory Council office and not at her residence at 10 Janpath as is her practice when she holds talks with senior allies.

Sonia is also believed to have not found time to meet another ally, Shibu Soren, Jharkhand's new chief minister appointed in circumstances that have given the Congress a red face.

Laloo Prasad is believed to have told Sonia the Centre must not buckle under the BJP's pressure and appoint advisers to the governor, Buta Singh, without consulting him.

He said officials appointed by the former chief minister, Rabri Devi, must not be shuffled en masse.

BJP president L.K. Advani met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, stressing the importance of appointing 'competent and honest' advisers to tackle 'corruption and criminalisation' in Bihar.

According to party spokesperson Sushma Swaraj, the Prime Minister replied: 'There cannot be two opinions in this regard.'

Among the names doing the rounds for the advisers' posts are of former foreign secretary Muchkund Dubey and the former chief economic adviser, Shankar Acharya.

Advani also urged Singh to 'fix responsibility' for the 'assault on democracy' in Goa and Jharkhand and recall the governors there.

Sources in the Prime Minister's Office said Singh replied that the post of the governor was a constitutional one and they had the power to act on their own and the Centre never 'dictated orders' to them.

With the battle lines drawn between the main players, observers see little prospect of an understanding developing in the near future.

Laloo Prasad said he was not in favour of early polls. But his bitterness, not just towards Paswan but also other 'secular' parties like the Samajwadi Party and CPI (ML), has made the task of forming an RJD-led government tough.

The reported unwillingness of Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar to install Paswan as the chief minister and the BJP's refusal to offer 'outside' support forestall the creation of a non-RJD government.

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