NEW DELHI

Nitish, Sharad Yadav garner support for merger decision

PATNA NOV. 10. The Railway Minister and Samata Party leader, Nitish Kumar, and the Union Food and Civil Supplies Minister and Janata Dal (United) president, Sharad Yadav, today shored up public support for the move to merge the two parties.

At Mr. Kumar's request, Mr. Yadav attended a meeting where local leaders joined the proposed party. The objective was not only to underline their unity of purpose but also to put down the voices of dissent, particularly of some MPs whose expulsion orders were revoked last week.

It was the first meeting jointly addressed by the two leaders after the decision to merge the two parties with the Defence Minister, George Fernandes, as its founder president was taken. The meeting was also an attempt to widen the party's vote base with those being taken in belonging to the intermediary backward caste, Kushwaha. Mr. Yadav, in fact, stressed the need to break the caste barriers.

The leaders also used the occasion to justify the merger decision. "The turnout clearly justifies our decision to merge," said Mr. Kumar, who had been working in this direction for some years now. Mr. Fernandes had opposed the move earlier. He charged the rebels with trying to weaken the party and said their attempts would be defeated. He denied any move to shift his constituency and said he would again contest from the Barh Lok Sabha constituency.

He was apparently referring to the two MPs, Raghunath Jha and Brahmanand Mandal, who had petitioned the Lok Sabha Speaker and the Election Commission to allot the Samata Party symbol to them. Mr. Jha had claimed that the people wanted the Samata Party to continue to exist. Mr. Yadav, too, hit out at the two leaders for alleging that the merger was aimed at reaping electoral gains in the coming Lok Sabha elections. "It is true that we are uniting because of the coming elections. That is obvious."

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