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Wednesday, June 18 1997

Countdown begins for Laloo's dethronement

Devesh Kumar

NEW DELHI, June 17: Laloo Prasad Yadav's jubilation over the Delhi High Court (HC) verdict this afternoon on the holding of the Janata Dal (JD) polls was cut short hours later by Bihar Governor A R Kidwai, who sanctioned his prosecution in the fodder scam.

Kidwai's order could well spell trouble for Laloo's bid to remain in power, both as Chief Minister and party president.

After taking time to make up his mind, Governor Kidwai finally gave the go-ahead to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to prosecute Laloo, his Cabinet Ministers Bhola Ram Toofani and Vidya Sagar Nishad and senior Congress leader Jagannath Mishra.

The decision is likely to give a fresh impetus to the power-struggle within the JD. It is also likely to strengthen the dissident camp. In fact, emboldened by it, his detractors both within and outside Bihar have already started baying for his blood.

Taking up cudgels against him, a senior Lok Sabha member from Bihar late this night called upon Laloo to resign from the Chief Minister's post and also withdraw his candidature from party president's post.

Within the United Front (UF), Laloo stands virtually isolated. While the Left has already demanded his resignation, Front convenor N Chandrababu Naidu, while addressing reporters yesterday, made it clear that the coalition outfit would not support the Bihar Chief Minister if he refused to quit his chair even after he was chargesheeted in the fodder scam.

Within the JD, there is no love lost between Laloo and the former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda. There is considerable rancour between the two for the role Laloo played in dislodging the latter from the Prime Minister's post. In the ongoing crisis within the Dal, Gowda has, not surprisingly, decided to back Sharad.Laloo-baiters are set to mount an offensive to force Laloo to quit both the posts. ``After all, he himself forced S R Bommai to resign the party president's post on the plea that he was likely to be chargesheeted in the hawala case,'' said an MP.

But Laloo's supporters are in no mood to oblige his detractors. Indeed, in the days to come, Laloo is likely to intensify his efforts to retain his hold on the party. This is probably the reason why he has been so adamant on continuing as the party chief for at least six months.

``Laloo realises that, for all his bluster, he will have to give up the Chief Minister's post once he is chargesheeted in the fodder scam,'' said a party MP close to him. ``That is why he is so insistent on retaining the Dal president's post. In this respect, he wants his party to follow the example of the BJP.''

In the wake of the latest development, there is going to be considerable pressure on Prime Minister I K Gujral to persuade Laloo to give up the Chief Minister's gaddi. According to senior JD leaders, the Prime Minister was inclined to give Laloo another term as party chief.

``But he is unlikely to let Laloo continue as the CM of Bihar if he is chargesheeted by the CBI,'' said another senior Dal leader.

As news about the Governor's action trickled down in the Capital, a pall of gloom hung over the Laloo camp which had, till then, been rejoicing over the HC judgment delivered earlier in the day.

The Division Bench of Justices Anil Dev Singh and Cyriac Joseph, acting on a batch of petitions challenging the single-judge Bench order passed on June 7, directed Laloo ``to ensure that the national executive of the Janata Dal is convened at the earliest to fix a fresh date and venue for electing the party's new president'.' While doing this, the judges also set July 15 as the deadline for holding the election.

The order was received with an unconcealed glee by supporters of the beleaguered Bihar Chief Minister. Having received the Court's green signal, Laloo is likely to call the emergency session of the national executive, the Dal's supreme decision-making body, at the earliest so as to push through his plans of holding the party presidential election at Patna after removing returning officer P K Samantaray and his deputy B K Prasad.

Seeing himself cornered in the power-struggle with his challenger Sharad Yadav, Laloo, it may be mentioned, had earlier this month summoned the national executive on the pretext of ``discussing the political situation facing the country''. However, his game plan was foiled by the Delhi HC, which, acting on a petition filed by Samantaray, barred Laloo from going ahead with the meet.

This stay was subsequently vacated by the Court, which, however, attached a rider by warning the Bihar Chief Minister not to do anything that would be seen as an interference in the party poll. Faced with no choice, Laloo deferred the meet.Five Bihar officials in judicial custody

Five senior Bihar officials -- including one retired officer and three serving officers of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) -- arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in connection with the Rs 950 crore fodder scam, were today remanded to judicial custody for eight days.

The officials, whose remand in CBI custody was extended by another four days on Friday, were produced before the special court of S K Lal, who remanded them to judicial custody. The officials will now be produced before the court on June 25. They include Mahesh Prasad (Science and Technology Secretary), K Arumugam (Labour Secretary) and Beck Julius (Animal Husbandry Department Secretary), besides retired finance secretary Phoolchand Singh.Another official remanded to judicial custody was former AHD director Ramraj Ram.

Copyright © 1997 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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