The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Anniversary ambush in Bihar Paswan flock on BJP turf

Jamshedpur/Patna, May 21: The day before the milestone, a night of long knives.

Bihar burst back on the national centrestage on the eve of the first anniversary of the Manmohan Singh-led government with a resort on the outskirts of Jamshedpur turning into a staging post for the latest ' and most dramatic yet ' bid to install an NDA-led government in the state.

The BJP-Janata Dal (United) combine conceded tonight that it has “facilitated” the stay of 13 MLAs of Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party at a resort 13 km from Jamshedpur.

As claims and counter-claims of majority support ' Paswan’s flock and Independents hold the key to breaking the Bihar impasse ' flew thick and fast, a graver dimension was added.

Bihar governor Buta Singh, who is running the state administration now, alleged that the Jharkhand government is involved in keeping the MLAs at the resort.

“These MLAs were made to assemble at a government guesthouse. Is any more proof required of the Jharkhand government’s involvement'” asked the governor, who held a meeting with home minister Shivraj Patil in Delhi this evening.

The charge pits the constitutional head of one state against the elected government of another. Jharkhand, which neighbours Bihar, is ruled by a BJP-led government that came to power under controversial circumstances.

Laloo Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal reacted with dismay, demanding that the resort be raided to “free” the legislators.

The BJP alliance did not declare that it has managed enough MLAs ' 20 are needed to split Paswan’s party ' but Laloo Prasad sounded dejected.

“He (Paswan) has lost the game in Bihar,” the railway minister told a television channel. “His party is going to split. It is very sad for the UPA, particularly me.”

Several imponderables still lie ahead of the NDA. The biggest hurdle will be the Raj Bhavan and the Centre, without whose cooperation it will be difficult to wangle an invitation to prove majority.

But the “friendly” neighbourhood government is sparing no efforts at lending a helping hand. The resort in Jharkhand resembled a fortress this evening with policemen and state government officers keeping “outsiders and the media” at bay.

Two resorts ' Hill View and 10th Mile Stone ' on the highway had been booked for the MLAs, though they had earlier been reserved for a wedding. The legislators later agreed to shift to 10th Mile Stone ' said to be having 12 rooms ' and make Hill View (20 rooms) available for the wedding.

Late evening reports suggested the MLAs could be on their way to Rajasthan ' another BJP-ruled state ' as happened before the formation of the NDA government in Jharkhand.

Paswan’s supporters blocked the national highway near the resort in the afternoon, protesting against “horse-trading”. A local leader claimed that 16 of Paswan’s 29 MLAs were still in Patna while 13 were “missing”.

But Lok Janshakti heavyweight Munna Shukla said in Patna that as many as 22 to 24 MLAs were in favour of joining a Dal(United)-led government under Nitish. Another Lok Janshakti leader Nagmani declared that he is quitting the party.

The legislators who are in Jharkhand had sneaked into the state in small groups of “two and three” over the past week. After apparently meeting Munda, they proceeded by road to Jamshedpur. The MLAs’ stopover at a dhaba alerted the media to their presence in Jharkhand.

A BJP leader said the original plan had gone awry because of the leak. More legislators were expected to join the group at the resort. “But now we are keeping our fingers crossed,” he said.

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