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Bihar Assembly dissolved
Nitish pre-empted; NDA cries foul
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 23
Feeling cheated with JD (U) leader Nitish Kumar being pre-empted from staking his claim to form the government in Bihar, the BJP-led NDA dismissed the quickfire dissolution of the Bihar Assembly in the wee hours today as a “fraud on the Constitution and murder of democracy” even as the Manmohan Singh government defended its intervention to “avoid horse-trading.”

Within hours of the curtain ringing down on the celebrations of the UPA government completing one year in office last evening, the Cabinet at an emergent meeting reviewed the evolving situation in Patna in the wake of Bihar Governor Buta Singh’s report and recommended dissolution of the state Assembly. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in Moscow around midnight. Mr Kalam signed the papers three hours later, giving his assent to the Union Cabinet’s recommendation.

Clearly, RJD leader and Union Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav held sway in opting for fresh Assembly elections in Bihar as the fractured verdict had failed to provide a viable and stable political arrangement nearly three months after Bihar was brought under President’s rule and the Assembly kept in suspended animation.

It is apparent that the Central leadership was keen to avoid a delicate situation arising for itself as the RJD enjoys a solid chunk of 25 seats in the Lok Sabha and is the second largest entity in the UPA after the Congress.

With Union Chemical and Fertiliser Minister Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP coming apart, the BJP had urged Mr Nitish Kumar to rush to Patna and stake his claim to form the government in Patna. This activated the Congress and Left parties to act expeditiously in keeping the “communal forces” at bay. The only option open was to seek a fresh mandate of the people in Bihar as any breakthrough in ending the stalemate of government formation in Patna appeared remote, barring horse-trading. On his part, the RJD supremo had lobbied with the Left that ordering fresh elections in Bihar was the only way of ending the prevailing impasse.

Defending the UPA’s decision to dissolve the Bihar Assembly and go in for fresh Assembly elections, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil observed that the BJP was trying to break up Mr Paswan’s LJP and attempting to breach the Constitutional provisions. Under the circumstances, this was the only correct and proper action before the UPA government. “It was a constitutional necessity,” Mr Patil contended and said the ball was now in the court of the Election Commission.

Mr Buta Singh also defended the decision and stressed that efforts at horse-trading were under way in Bihar, thanks to the widespread discontent and frustration among the 29 members of the LJP. Mr Paswan’s efforts to keep his flock together as kingmaker in Bihar fell apart as less than one-third of his flock only was willing to back him.

In a turnaround which came rather late in the day, Mr Paswan said he was not averse to taking help from the RJD even as Mr Lalu Prasad rejected the LJP leader’s proposal of installing a Muslim as the Chief Minister of Bihar. Mr Paswan held Mr Lalu Prasad responsible for the dissolution of the Assembly and accused the Railway Minister of rejected all his proposals for the formation of a government in Patna.

In the evening, the BJP said it would challenge the Bihar Governor’s decision to dissolve the state Assembly and take the fight to the political and legal fronts. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee categorised the dissolution as “unscrupulous and undemocratic” which symbolised the UPA’s intolerant attitude towards the Opposition parties forming governments in the states. BJP President L.K. Advani talked of a conspiracy in dissolving the Bihar Assembly.

On his part, Mr Nitish Kumar was unconvincing as to how the JD (U) had suddenly mustered 130 MLAs, eight more than the simple majority of 122 in the 243-member state Assembly. “Let Mr Paswan first say how many legislators have left the LJP,” Mr Nitish Kumar said agitatedly. The JD (U) alleged that Mr Nitish Kumar’s decision to stake claim prompted the Centre to dissolve the Assembly.

The Congress welcomed the Centre’s decision to dissolve the Bihar Assembly and insisted that there was no other option in the wake of “large-scale horse-trading, kidnapping and bribing.” Interestingly, the Left parties justified the UPA government’s decision to dissolve the Bihar Assembly, thereby paving the way for a fresh poll in Bihar.

Meanwhile, the Bihar unit of the NDA has called for a statewide bandh tomorrow in protest against the dissolution of the state Assembly. BJP Vice-President Sushil Kumar Modi claimed in Patna that the strike would be historic and that the people of Bihar would not forgive the Congress, RJD and LJP as they were angry with the dissolution of the Assembly.

Legal and Constitutional experts aver that the UPA government has taken the correct decision of dissolving the state Assembly in the given circumstances. If the efforts in forming a coalition have not fructified in the last three months, it is unlikely to come good over the next few months, at least through proper Constitutional means.



EC to decide Bihar poll dates soon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 23
The timing of Bihar elections, where the Assembly has been dissolved after it was kept in suspended animation since the February poll, would be decided by the full meeting of the Election Commission soon, sources in the poll panel said today.

Although the poll panel has six months to hold the elections to the Bihar Assembly, sources said it would take into consideration factors like weather, festivals, school schedules, training of poll personnel and movement of security forces and electronic voting machines (EVMs) before deciding on the dates.

The EC would also hold talks with Union Home Secretary on the availability of paramilitary forces for conducting a free and fair poll in a state where the issues of impartiality of the local administration and security have always been very sensitive.

The sources said there is not likely to be any revision in the electoral rolls as the elections had been held in the state only in February-March this year.



Cong defends govt on Bihar
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 23
Defending the government’s decision to recommend the dissolution of the Bihar Assembly, the Congress today said it was the only option left to stop “horse-trading” of MLAs. “The MLAs were being sought to be lured and dissolution of the Assembly was the only way to check horse-trading,” AICC general secretary Ambika Soni said.

She said the political situation in the state was deteriorating with daily reports of MLAs being lured by the NDA. 



Bihar puts Sonia’s coalition skills to test
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 23
Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s skills at coalition management will be put to test once again now that Bihar is headed for yet another Assembly election.

The Congress had failed the test in the last Assembly poll when it was unable to bring together warring UPA allies — Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and Lok Janshakti Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan — and ensure that the secular alliance remained intact. Not just that, the Congress itself was unable to work out a smooth seat-sharing arrangement with its UPA ally, the RJD. It settled for a partial understanding with both Mr Yadav and his bete noire, Mr Paswan, which turned out to be its undoing.

Although it is still early to discuss poll strategy and alliances, Congress leaders maintain that their first effort will be to consolidate the secular forces. “ Since we are all together in the UPA government here , it will be our serious endeavour to get all allies on board for the Bihar election,” said Ms Ambika Soni, chief of the AICC media department. She said as far as the Congress was concerned, it would always be its effort to see that secular forces contest the coming election together.

As of today, it appears a tough call as Mr Paswan remained as rigid as ever, reiterating that he would have no alliance with either the BJP or the RJD.

The Congress is, however, hoping that there will be a cooling off in the coming days and both Mr Paswan and Mr Yadav would have learnt from their mistakes and would resolve their differences.

Congress insiders say that had Mr Paswan not been so inflexible, the three UPA allies — the RJD, LJP and the Congress — could have formed a government in Bihar. As it happened, the LJP leader ended up paying a heavy price for his obduracy as his restless legislators started deserting him.

The Congress is hoping that Mr Paswan will bend a little just as he did yesterday when he agreed to support a RJD Chief Minister, provided the candidate was a Muslim. Last time, the Congress President had deputed senior leaders Arjun Singh and M.L. Fotedar to discuss the seat-sharing formula for Bihar and Jharkhand. Since their strategy of going in for a partial alliance with the two warring Bihar leaders failed miserably, it is entirely possible that this task may be entrusted to some other leaders.

Learning from experience, Ms Gandhi may be required to step in to ensure that secular forces remain united. Unlike the last Assembly elections, the Congress is no longer under the illusion that the tide has turned in its favour after it formed a government at the Centre. So far, Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav has been extremely generous, saying he will be willing to concede more seats to the Congress this time round.


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