In a major jolt to RJD chief Lalu Prasad and the Congress-RJD alliance ahead of Lok Sabha elections, 13 of the RJD’s 22 MLAs in Bihar broke away from the party on Monday.
However, barely a couple of hours after they had been acknowledged by the assembly speaker as a separate group, six of the 13 MLAs showed up at the RJD office to claim that their signatures on the application submitted to the speaker’s office had been forged.
Even if all 13 MLAs do indeed walk out, the new group will still be two short of the number needed to split the RJD under the anti-defection law. At least two-thirds of the legislature group must break away in order not to attract the provisions of the law.
A defiant RJD challenged the speaker’s decision, and demanded that he withdraw the notification.
Lalu, who has been camping in Delhi, trying to keep afloat the plan for an RJD-Congress-LJP alliance for the Lok Sabha elections, said he had no information about the split in the party. “I have been trying to bring together secular parties. I have learnt about the development. I am trying to talk to my MLAs,” he said.
The RJD has called an emergency meeting of its MLAs at former chief minister Rabri Devi’s Patna residence on Monday to “demonstrate the unity in the party”, and challenge the Vidhan Sabha notification.
The revolt, led by Parbatta MLA Samrat Choudhary, son of senior RJD leader and former MP Shakuni Choudhary, is driven by assurances from Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) that some rebels would get ministries in Bihar, and others tickets for the Lok Sabha elections.
There are 16 vacancies in Nitish Kumar’s council of ministers, created following the JD(U)’s split with the BJP. In the 243-member Bihar assembly, the JD(U) has only 115 MLAs, and depends on the support of four Congress MLAs and as many independents.
Samrat, who is upset with the RJD leadership for not considering him for the Khagaria ticket, and who hopes to become a minister in NItish’s government, reportedly moved the application for the split.
“There is no point sticking to the RJD now. Laluji has been siding with the man who was responsible for sending him to jail by tearing up the ordinance,” Samrat Choudhary said, referring to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and his statement rejecting as “nonsense” the attempt to shield convicted lawmakers through an ordinance.
Samrat had travelled with Nitish Kumar to Bhagalpur two days ago.
The chief minister himself chose not to react on Monday evening. Responding to RJD leader Abdul Bari Siddiqui’s allegation that he was trying to break the RJD, Nitish said, “This is not the time to talk.”
JD(U) national spokesperson KC Tyagi, however, said: “As of now, we have information on 13 RJD MLAs joining us. More MLAs are also in touch. These MLAs will strengthen Nitish Kumar’s hands in the fight against Narendra Modi’s divisive politics.”
Siddiqui, who paraded the six RJD MLAs who had ‘returned’ — Lalit Yadav, Abdul Gafur, Durga Prasad Singh, Akhtarul Imam Shahin, Chandrashekhar and Faiyaz Ahmed — at the party office, alleged: “This is a conspiracy by the CM, who has promised to give lal battis to some leaders. They have also been dropping my name, but the JD(U) will never succeed in its attempts. I have already approached the speaker, who has promised to strike off the names of those who still pledge their allegiance to the RJD, and have said that their signatures have been forged.”