The Hindu, Nov. 27, 1999
By Our Staff Correspondent
" PATNA, NOV. 26. The NDA is caught in a keen tussle over the leadership issue in the State with Assembly elections approaching fast. Today, the Telecommunications Minister, Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan, seemed to drum up support to stake his claim for the top job in Bihar with a rally of his Dalit Sena. Soon after the Lok Sabha elections, Mr. Paswan revived his Dalit Sena and decided to hold a rally in Patna without the involvement of the JD(U), and perhaps the Samata Party, to demonstrate his strength in obvious aspiration for the Chief Ministerial post should the NDA wrest power from the RJD. The meeting eventually turned out to be impressive, but not of the size promised.
The differences were as much visible with none of the top Samata Party leaders present at the rally, while the BJP leaders made their presence felt in good number and, more importantly acknowledged the leadership and importance of Mr. Paswan and the "Dalit" factor. Among the BJP leaders present were the Leader of Opposition, Mr. S. K. Modi, and the Union Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Mr. Muni Lal, while those from the Samata Party were Mr. Mahendra Biatha and Capt. Jai Narain Ishad, both MPs, belonging to Dalit and extremely backward cast respectively. Some of the Samata Party functionaries complained that their leaders were not extended an "honourable" invitation. A section of the crowd expressed its displeasure against the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, for clipping Mr. Paswan?s wings by bifurcating his portfolio and handing over the newly created information technology department to Mr. Pramod Mahajan, Parliamentary Affairs Minister. The section carried placards denouncing the Prime Minister for his alleged bias against Dalits of Bihar. They shouted slogans as Mr. Paswan arrived at the Gandhi Maidan. They withdrew their placards soon after. The Dalit Sena rally was held against the backdrop of two developments. The first one was the Samata Party?s State executive meeting where its leaders were against a merger with the JD(U), notwithstanding the official line ratifying the proposal in this regard. The Samata Party leaders favoured the projection of the Union Agriculture Minister, Mr. Nitish Kumar, as the prospective Chief Minister of Bihar and contest the elections under his leadership.
Secondly, the BJP declared that the Chief Minister, if the NDA was elected to power, would be elected at the joint meeting of the newly elected legislators of the constituents, which was construed in political circles as a rebuff to the Samata?s assertions for a greater share of seats to make sure the all important post for its own leader.
The presence of the BJP leaders at today?s meeting only strengthened this apprehension with the Samata Party leaders who keenly observed the proceedings and the imports of the speeches delivered. Mr. Modi minced no words in stressing the importance of Mr. Paswan?s role in the victory of the NDA in the Lok Sabha elections in Bihar in increasing its tally by 10 to 41 seats. He said that the shifts of Dalits from the RJD to the NDA was a major factor in Mr. Vajpayee becoming the Prime Minister again. The rebel Samata Party MLC, Mr. Ramesh Prasad, said that none could stop Mr. Paswan from marching ahead, the reference needs no clarification. On his part, Mr. Paswan maintained that the dalits would be the deciding factor in the coming Assembly elections and that they would decide the next Chief Minister of Bihar. He claimed that the dalits had deserted the RJD president, Mr. Laloo Prasad Yadav, and were now behind him. The major part of his speech, however, was devoted to clarifying his stand to the minorities regarding his association with the NDA. Mr. Paswan demanded reservation for dalits among the minorities and the Christians as also for dalits, in general in the private sector, besides legislative bodies."