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The Congress’ plans for an alliance with Lalu Prasad’s RJD in Bihar, which seemed a virtually done deal till recently, is suddenly on shaky ground with the senior UPA partner unhappy with the seats on offer.
Adding a twist to the tale, Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) — which has been exploring options with the Left-sponsored Third Front — has expressed an interest in a pre-poll partnership with the Congress.
The developments come days after Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party chose to align with the BJP for the state’s 40 Lok Sabha seats rather than be a minor partner in a Congress-RJD-LJP combine.
The Rashtriya Janata Dal has offered the Congress 11 seats (plus one for its ally NCP). “The problem arises not from the number of seats offered but from the choice of seats. These constituencies, including Nitish Kumar’s stronghold of Nalanda, are mostly those where we don’t have much of a presence,” a senior Congress leader told HT on Saturday.
The Congress wants Madhubani, East Champaran, Jehanabad, Nawada and Bhagalpur but the RJD has strong claims over these.
Returning to Patna after having failed to get an audience with Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Friday, Lalu indicated the RJD’s offer was non-negotiable, saying, “The ball is in the Congress’ court.” The RJD’s parliamentary board meets on Sunday and is likely to take a final call on the matter.
Watching the developments closely is the Janata Dal (United), whose senior leaders, including Pataliputra MP Ranjan Yadav, are reportedly holding backdoor talks with the Congress. “If senior Congress leaders give us public assurance on our demand for special category status for Bihar, the JD(U) would willingly consider the option of a pre-poll tie-up,” state party chief Vashisht Narain Singh said.
“I don’t rule out the possibility of a Congress-JD(U) alliance. It would be a welcome development,” added a Nitish aide.
A section in the Bihar Congress wants the party to go it alone in the April-May elections, pointing out that the RJD today is a headless organisation with former CM Lalu barred from contesting due to his recent conviction in a fodder scam case.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi — who had famously torn up an ordinance seeking to negate a Supreme Court order disallowing convicted legislators from holding on to their posts — is also said to be cool to allying with the corruption-tainted Lalu. For the ruling JD(U) — which in June 2013 ended a 17-year-old alliance with the BJP over its decision to elevate Narendra Modi — a partnership with the Congress would not only be symbolically valuable but would also provide an opportunity to isolate Lalu.