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V.P. Singh, Sonia prevail over Paswan

By Javed M. Ansari



Former Prime Minister V.P. Singh and the Lok Janshakti Party president, Ram Vilas Paswan (left), coming out of the latter's residence after a meeting in New Delhi on Saturday. — PTI

NEW DELHI, MAY 22. He almost did not make it. Upset over being denied the Railways portfolio, the Lok Janshakti president, Ram Vilas Paswan, had threatened to stay away from the Government. The last-minute intervention of the former Prime Minister, Vishwanath Pratap Singh, Ahmed Patel, political secretary to the congress president, and a personal assurance from the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, made him change his mind.

The LJP president had made no secret of his desire to become the Railway Minister and, after learning that he had been pipped at the post by his Bihar ally, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, apparently went into a sulk. Mr. Paswan called on the Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and the CPI(M) general secretary, Harkishan Singh Surjeet, in a bid to get them to make a pitch in his favour. Unable to make headway, Mr. Paswan threatened to stay away making it known that he would rather not join the Government than settle for something else.

Dramatic scenes followed at his Janpath residence. Frenzied supporters blocked traffic outside his residence and raised slogans against RJD chief, Laloo Prasad Yadav, for spiking Mr. Paswan's chances. A section of the crowd accused Mr. Laloo Yadav of having stabbed the LJP president, while others urged Ms. Gandhi to "ensure justice."

Sometime later, Mr. V.P. Singh trooped in with Mr. Ahmad Patel. The two were closeted with Mr. Paswan for over an hour after which Mr. Patel left, ostensibly carrying a message for his party chief. As the clock ticked away, the decibel level of Mr. Paswan's supporters increased, party MPs Ram Chandra Paswan and Suraj Bhan, trooped in but gave little away.

In Mr. Paswan's drawing room, Mr. V.P. Singh carried on negotiations. He urged Mr. Paswan not to do anything that would queer the pitch for the new government. He also talked to Ms. Gandhi on phone, discussing alternatives. The breakthrough came with minutes to go for the ceremony. Word spread that the LJP president had been offered charge of two Ministries and had agreed to take the oath. The doors of Mr. Paswan's drawing room suddenly flung open, and Mr. Singh emerged with a reluctant Minister-designate in tow and drove straight to the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Within minutes, the mood changed from despair to ecstasy. The LJP supporters cheered, the duo was mobbed and slogans hailing Ms. Gandhi and Mr. Pawar rent the air.

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