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Paswan to test strength of party in Bihar panchayat polls

By Our Special Correspondent

PATNA, DEC. 16. The Telecommunications Minister, Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan, today served notice on the NDA allies of his decision to test the strength of his new party, the Lok Janshakti, in the panchayat elections in Bihar and the polls of State Assemblies were due next year.

Mr. Paswan said his party would contest all the seats in the panchayat elections, scheduled to be held early next year, on its own steam, stressing that the NDA did not exist at the grassroot level.

He told newspersons on his arrival here, for the first time after floating his new party, that preparations were afoot to pick candidates giving representation to all social entities.

The fact that Mr. Paswan had decided to put up candidates backed by his party, notwithstanding the fact that the panchayat elections are to be held on a non-party basis, is a clear indication of his throwing a gauntlet not only to the ruling RJD but also each of the NDA allies - the BJP, Samata Party and the JD(U).

While declining to spell out his relation with the allies, particularly the Samata Party and the JD(U) which he split to form his own outfit, he said they were welcome to arrive at a functional understanding with him.

Mr. Paswan denied any bid to weaken the JD(U) or the Samata party, but claimed it was his responsibility to harness the aspirations of those who were dissatisfied with the leadership in these two parties.

Mr. Paswan, however, was not specific about his strategy for the elections in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, though he was candid that his strength there was not the same as in Bihar. He, however, ruled out a patch up with the BSP leader, Ms. Mayawati, in Uttar Pradesh.

Mr. Paswan said he would visit these States after the Parliament session to widen his base and prepare for the elections before concentrating on Bihar. He would hold a rally here on March 17 as part of his campaign for a change in Government.

There was no threat of the NDA breaking up so long as the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, was committed to the common minimum programme of the NDA, though hiccups were unavoidable at frequent intervals, he said.

As regards the postal employees' strike, Mr. Paswan said the only way to break the deadlock was to keep the doors open for negotiations and find a face saving solution.

Though he said the State Governments had been directed to maintain law and order in the light of the court directive, Mr. Paswan ruled out repression to regularise postal services. He said that while he himself would be reviewing the situation in Patna, the PMGs had been directed to carry out similar exercises to oversee the actions that had been taken to make alternative arrangements.

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