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Bihar crisis leaves BJP divided

The BJP has decided to call a meeting of its MLAs and MPs from Bihar to resolve the question of whether Dy CM Sushil Kumar should step down, reports Shekhar Iyer.
Hindustan Times | By Shekhar Iyer, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUN 05, 2008 02:09 AM IST

A vexed BJP has finally decided to call a meeting of its MLAs and MPs from Bihar in New Delhi on June 8 to resolve the question of whether Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar should step down.

The party leadership, which met at LK Advani’s house, could not reach a conclusion with several rebellious MLAs firm that Modi should quit so the BJP’s interests in the coalition with the Nitish Kumar-led JD-U are secure.

After two days of hectic talks, the party veered around to the view that only a virtual head count of MLAs opposing Modi would settle the issue, though some said it could open a can of worms in several states, including Uttarakhand.

The dissidents, who claim the support of at least 40 MLAs out of 55, allege that Modi is like a “puppet” in the hands of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his style of functioning is hurting the party in the state.

Prior to the decision, rebel MLAs led by Nand Kishore Yadav and Ashwini Kumar Choubey had a long meeting with BJP chief Rajnath Singh. Venkaiah Naidu and Sushma Swaraj were also present. Modi and Bihar BJP chief Radha Mohan Singh met Rajnath as well. Rajnath told them that a decision would be taken at Advani’s residence.

With divergent views even within the BJP parliamentary board, which met on Monday to discuss the issue, Advani and other leaders decided to call a meeting of MLAs so that the exact strength of pro-changers would be known.

“This is the first time in recent times that the party has decided to seek the views of individual MLAs by calling them to Delhi. It could set a wrong precedent,” said a BJP functionary. He, however, added that the party was left with no other option.

Those backing Modi said the deputy CM could have been “simply asked” to step down – unless the party leadership intended to save him even after a head count.

A compromise suggested by some is that Modi be stripped of his position as the BJP legislative party leader or the state BJP chief be replaced.

The crisis erupted after last month’s Cabinet reshuffle in which two senior BJP ministers — Chandra Mohan Rai and Janardhan Prasad Sagriwal — were dropped and portfolios of two heavyweights Nandkishore Yadav and Ashwini Kumar Choubey were changed.

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