Relations between Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad and his United Progressive Alliance ally, the Congress, reached a new low on Saturday with the Railways minister blaming the Congress for its failure in preventing the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
“I don’t want to go into details. It’s a long story,” the 60-year-old leader said, addressing a predominantly Muslim rally at Manigachi in Darbhanga, Bihar, while campaigning for his local candidate Mohamed Ali Ashraf Fatmi. “But the Babri Masjid was razed to the ground and the Congress did nothing to prevent it.”
The Babri Masjid at Ayodhya was demolished on December 6, 1992. The Congress was then in power at the centre.
Congress spokesperson Kapil Sibal said Lalu had maintained complete silence on the matter for 11 years. “Every year on December 6, we raise the issue but he never said anything about it either in Parliament or in cabinet meetings.” Most secular parties pillory the BJP for its role in the Masjid demolition every December 6.
Sibal also attacked Prasad for joining hands with the Samajwadi Party (SP), which has a new ally in Kalyan Singh, who was the BJP chief minister of Uttar Pradesh when the Babri masjid was demolished. “They are now sitting with the person who is one of the accused in the Babri masjid demolition. It is very unfortunate and pains us,” he said.
The SP has endorsed Lalu’s latest statement.
In the aftermath of the demolition, Lalu had often made statements criticising the Congress’s role. But once the fodder scam – in which his name figured – broke in 1996, he stopped doing so.
Political observers see the statement as yet another effort by the 61-year-old RJD chief to impress on voters that his party, though in alliance with the Congress at the center, is an entirely separate entity.
It was intended to prevent the Muslim vote in Bihar, once solidly behind his party, from being weaned away, not only by the Janata Dal (U), the ruling party in the state, but also by the Congress.
The relations between the two trusted UPA partners soured after Prasad and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief Ram Vilas Paswan joined hands and offered the Congress just three out of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar. A miffed Congress decided to go it alone, prompting the RJD-LJP combine to announce candidates on all the seats.
Then came a resounding rebuff to the RJD chief from none other than Congress President Sonia Gandhi. At her first election rally in Bihar on April 11, she reminded the gathering at Jamui of RJD’s 15-year “misrule” in Bihar. “The less said the better about those dark days,” she said.
However, the Congress has kept the door open as far as post-poll tie ups are concerned. “He (Lalu) is an ally and will remain so even after the elections,” Sibal said.
With Ashok Mishra in Patna