Kingmaker faces temptation to be king

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By OUR BUREAU in Patna
  • Published 28.03.05
Partymen presents a mace to LPJ chief Ram Vilas Paswan in Patna on Monday. (PTI)

Patna, Feb. 28: The kingmaker must make a bid to be the king. That was the message given to Ram Vilas Paswan today by his flock. Most of the successful LJP candidates, sources in the party said, are in favour of Paswan leading the government in Bihar.

?If Laloo Prasad Yadav is so concerned about keeping the communal forces at bay?, an irate member apparently told Paswan, ?let him support an LJP-led government.?

While the 28 MLAs are totally opposed to an RJD-led government, they feel a Congress-led government, too, would be dominated by the RJD.

As many as 17 of the party?s MLAs are Bhumihars or Rajputs, five are Yadavs and three Paswans. Kurmis, Koeris and other castes make up the rest. Strangely, virtually all the Muslim candidates lost the elections. Even the Yadav candidates in the LJP appear to be inimical to Laloo Prasad, owing allegiance to his friend-turned-foe Ranjan Yadav. The composition of the party indicates why it is difficult for Laloo Prasad to poach on them.

Confirmation that Paswan may not be averse to heading the government came during the day when he declared that President?s rule was the ?last option?. Barely 24 hours ago, Paswan had claimed President?s rule to be the best and possibly the only option.

The LJP leader also informed the governor in writing that his party would not support a government led by either the RJD or the BJP. The Samajwadi Party, with three MLAs, later did the same.

The CPI-ML, with seven members, agreed that the mandate was against the RJD and the BJP. But its general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya said: ?The mandate is also not for the Congress or Paswan?. But let me assert that before anything, the Dal(U) will have to quit the NDA.?

The NDA ? BJP and Dal(U) in Bihar ? is set to file a ?caveat? with the governor tomorrow, saying they will not back any RJD government and asking to be heard by Raj Bhavan before anyone is invited to form the government.

The idea is to stress that Laloo Prasad does not have the majority and pre-empt an invitation to him.

Paswan?s letter effectively leaves three options open. The first is the highly unlikely event of a Congress-led government including the RJD and the LJP. The second is an LJP-led government with the RJD and the Congress in it; and, finally an LJP-Janata Dal (United) government backed by the BJP from outside.

The BJP seemed willing. Its leader Sushil Kumar Modi said: ?As for Paswan, we have adopted a wait-and-watch policy. We agree on one point ? that Bihar needs to get rid of a government of which Laloo Prasad?s party is a part.?

Asked about the possibility, Paswan said it is up to the Dal (U) to take the initiative. But it would have to give up the BJP?s company.

This option would also obviously mean that Paswan resigns from the Union cabinet, withdraws from the UPA and agrees to become chief minister. This is something he would do if pushed to a corner. The governor, Buta Singh, inviting the RJD to form the government ? something Laloo Prasad almost demanded today ? could precipitate the move.

After Rabri Devi handed in her resignation, Laloo Prasad said: ?Our legislature party will meet tomorrow to elect its leader and we will definitely stake a claim because we are the largest in the new House.?

The NDA and Paswan?s own MLAs have been signalling to him that the Congress is an unreliable ally and needs the support of Laloo Prasad much more at the Centre.

If the governor bites the bait, which appears unlikely, it would not only jeopardise the budget session of Parliament, but also raise the uncomfortable question why the BJP was not invited to form the government in Jharkhand.

The RJD gameplan, therefore, is quickly veering round to President?s rule, followed by an election after six months or a year. Laloo Prasad is clearly convinced he will be able to regain the support of Muslims and Yadavs during this period.

Congress spokesperson Ambika Soni said the party was ready to make every sacrifice to keep ?communal forces? at bay. With just 10 MLAs, the party, it appears, would either like a Congress-led government or President?s rule.

The battle for Bihar, thus, is far from over. It has merely raised the dust. In the next few days, the state can expect a storm to follow.