New Delhi: Putting a question mark on the 'Janata Parivar' merger, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Friday skipped a crucial meeting called to iron out the differences with RJD chief Lalu Prasad, who mooted the idea of roping in Jitan Ram Manjhi, a known Kumar detractor, in the anti-BJP alliance.
Kumar, who was in Delhi, sent JD(U) president Sharad Yadav for talks with Lalu and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, who has been designated as the leader of the proposed entity after a formal merger of six 'Janata Parivar' outfits.
Kumar's aides said he had undergone a minor eye surgery and advised rest.
Lalu, who had yesterday suggested bringing in Manjhi in the 'grand alliance' to take take on BJP, today formally broached the idea at the meeting, sources close to the development, said.
Sources said Prasad, instead of focusing on a merger between RJD and JD(U), talked about forming a 'grand alliance' against BJP that would include all non-NDA parties, including the Left, something that would not go down well with Nitish Kumar.
Despite JD(U) yesterday deprecating any move to forge ties with Manjhi, who was ousted and replaced by Kumar after he refused to step down as Chief Minister, Lalu's insistence on his inclusion in the alliance is being seen as an attempt at procrastination.
Lalu, according to sources, was not keen on a merger and wanted the two parties go to the hustings as alliance partners, with his party getting a larger share of tickets to contest. Though the Nitish Kumar government is surviving on the RJD prop in Bihar, Lalu has consistently refused to project him as the future chief minister.
JD(U), on the other hand, wants Lalu to back Kumar as the chief ministerial face of the merged entity.
The first strong signal of the merger not fructifying had
come a few days ago when SP National General Secretary Ram Gopal Yadav declared that it was not possible before the Bihar Assembly polls due to "technicalities" involved and any move taken in a hurry would amount to signing the "death warrant" of his own party.
SP believes it has little to gain from any merger between the two Bihar-centric parties with many of its leaders fearing a loss of stature in the new party.
Lalu too does not want to play a second fiddle to JD(U) despite his party having a larger support base.
Lalu's insistence on roping in Manjhi, a Mahadalit leader whose party has made it clear that it will not be part of any formation involving Kumar, is being seen as sign that the RJD boss is intent on driving a hard bargain.
For the record, Lalu said attempts at unity are on and brushed aside reports that Kumar was unhappy with the recent turn of events. "I have no differences with anybody," he said.
After prolonged negotiations, six splintered parties of the socialist fraternity--Samajwadi Party, RJD, JD(U), JD(S), INLD and Samajwadi Janata Party--had last month announced their merger, with SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav as the leader of the proposed entity.
Their leaders had expressed the hope that the new entity would materialise before the Bihar polls to put up a strong fight against BJP. However, enthusiasm waned as differences cropped up between RJD and JD(U).