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Fernandes to head Janata Dal (United)

By Gargi Parsai

The Samata Party president, George Fernandes, felicitating the Janata Dal (U) president, Sharad Yadav, at a press conference in New Delhi on Thursday after announcing the merger of the two parties. — Photo: Sandeep Saxena

New Delhi Oct. 30. The Defence Minister, George Fernandes, will be the president of the newly-merged Samata and Janata Dal (United), which will be called the Janata Dal (United) within the ruling National Democratic Alliance. The Food and Consumer Affairs Minister, Sharad Yadav, who was the president of the JD(U), would chair the Parliamentary Board.

Announcing this at a press conference here today, the Samata leader and Railway Minister, Nitish Kumar, said the unified party would retain the JD(U)'s symbol of arrow and the green-and-white flag of the Samata. He said both parties would contest the coming Assembly elections as the JD(U).

Saying that the merger fulfilled a "long-felt need'', Mr. Fernandes said the national councils of the two former parties would begin the process of merger tomorrow. The members of Parliament would elect the leader of the parliamentary party.

To thrash out technical details, a steering committee comprising Mr. Fernandes, Mr. Yadav and Mr. Kumar has been formed. Among others who were present at the joint press conference were the Union Minister of State for External Affairs, Digvijay Singh, the JD(U) general secretary, K.C. Tyagi, and the Samata general secretary and spokesman, Shiv Kumar.

Giving out a signal for the coming together of like-minded groups, Mr. Fernandes said he would be in touch with such groups within the NDA and even outside it. "We will talk to others who are in the NDA or out of it or have gone away. There is a need for ideology in politics,'' he said. He hinted at talks with the Trinamool Congress but denied that he had been in touch with Mulayam Singh Yadav, Deve Gowda or Navin Patnaik. The Indian National Lok Dal leader, Om Prakash Chautala, had attended a meeting but was against a merger, he said.

Asked what was the difference in the situation from 2000 when the Samata had pulled out of the JD(U) after jointly contesting Bihar Assembly elections, Mr. Fernandes shot back, "Things can change. Even then, there were no political differences, may be tactical differences, but no difference in ideology.''

On how long the merger would last, Mr. Fernandes said, "It will be stable. The future policies, the future would decide.'' He said if the party could enter into a seat adjustment with the BJP for the coming Assembly elections, it would.

Mr. Yadav said both the parties had contested elections together in 1999 and there was pressure from people and party workers for the unification of like-minded partners to strengthen the party. "Talks for merger had been on for the last two to three months. The aim of the merger is to strengthen the party and its ideology. There was no meaning in functioning separately.''

Mr. Yadav declined to comment on the discordant voice from the former leader of the JD(U) in the Lok Sabha, Devendra Prasad Yadav, who said on Wednesday that the party leaders had not consulted him. He said there was overwhelming support for the merger.

The two parties which contested the last Lok Sabha elections under the JD(U) symbol together, have 18 Lok Sabha seats.

But with the merger, their combined MLA strength in Bihar would become higher than that of the BJP, which leads the Opposition in the Assembly. Asked if the merged JD(U) would wrest the Opposition leadership from the BJP in Bihar, Mr. Fernandes said, "If anything is to follow as a outcome of this, it will follow.''

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