Ending days of speculation, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad said on Wednesday that his party support would support two candidates of the Nitish Kumar-led JD-U in the Rajya Sabha bypolls on Thursday.
“We are a force committed to social justice. We are extending support to strengthen the social justice movement and secularism at a time when the BJP is indulging in all sorts of tricks to weaken the secular forces,” Prasad said after a meeting with RJD MLAs.
“The BJP was trying to destablise the JD(U) government by indulging in horse-trading in the RS polls. The RJD wants to defeat the ulterior motives of the BJP,” Prasad added.
The JD(U) faces a tough election in which its candidates, Pawan Verma and Gulam Rasool Baliyawi, face stiff challenge from party rebels-backed Independents Anil Kumar Sharma and Shabir Ali. If the two fail to clinch 118 votes in the elections, it would come as a huge setback to the ruling party, already weighed down by over 24 dissidents who are backed by 84 BJP legislators.
Party sources said the RJD’s call to side with the JD(U) was a decision taken out of political compulsion of maintaining a distinct identity as an “anti BJP” force and to not allow the ruling JD(U) to gain any mileage in case of a loss in the RS bypolls due to lack of the RJD’s support.
There is, however, speculation that five-six of the 21 MLAs of the RJD, including Raghavendra Pratap Singh, Anirudh Kumar and Chandrashekhar, could cross-vote as they did not attend the MLAs meeting on Wednesday.
Repeated appeals and telephonic calls made by former chief minister Kumar to Prasad had helped in mollifying the RJD's hardened stand of not extending support to the ruling party, a senior leader said. Prasad has confirmed that Kumar spoke to him.
Bihar assembly’s acting secretary-cum-returning officer Hareram Mukhiya earlier forwarded an election commission press note to all political parties detailing the Supreme Court verdict, which says all MLAs have liberty to cast their vote as per their will and that parties cannot issue whips to the MLAs.
Prasad on Sunday rejected the JD(U) leadership’s claim that the BJP was to blame for dissent within the ruling party over the June 19 bypolls for two Rajya Sabha seats. “The JD(U) house has been set on fire by the party’s legislators and now they are looking for a fire tender,” he said.
The JD(U) rebels, counting on the support of 84 BJP MLAs in the Bihar assembly are backing Sharma and Ali. The rebel camp is counting on the support of 30 or more out of 117 JD(U) MLAs to facilitate the defeat of the two official party candidates.
JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav has already been elected unopposed for a third RS seat for which by election was scheduled to be held on June 19.