A day after the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) divided Bihar’s 40 Lok Sabha seats between themselves, leaving just three for the Congress, Sonia Gandhi’s party has retaliated.
In a quick tit for tat, the Congress left just two seats for the RJD and the LJP, considered its most dependable allies till Tuesday. In a deal formalised on Wednesday, the party divided 12 of Jharkhand’s 14 parliamentary seats with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha.
This leaves just two seats for Lalu Prasad’s RJD while blanking out Paswan.
With this the fissures in the UPA and its secular vote have widened further.
“We’ve finalised the seat-sharing agreement in which the Congress will contest seven and the JMM five. We have left two seats open. There’s no agreement with the RJD so far. Earlier we were supposed to contest six, the JMM four and the RJD two,’’ said Congress’s Jharkhand in-charge Kesava Rao
The Congress will contest Godda, Dhanbad, Ranchi, Singhbhum, Khunti, Lohardagga and Koderma. The JMM will field candidates in Rajmahal, Jamshedpur, Dumka, Giridih and Hazaribagh.
It remains to be seen whether RJD’s Lalu Yadav swallows his pride and petitions for the two open seats of Palamu and Chattra. An enraged LJP announced that the party would contest on six seats.
Bihar and Jharkhand were the two states where the UPA alliance was strong, with the Congress often acting as a bridge between then rivals Prasad and Paswan.
It may be a different story now. After meeting Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday, senior leader Sushilkumar Shinde declared that the Congress alliance with the two parties stood officially severed in Bihar.
Five years back by mid-January—almost three months before the 2004 Lok Sabha polls — Sonia had managed to bring on board disparate allies such as Prasad, Paswan, Nationalist Congress Party’s Sharad Pawar, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham’s M Karunanidhi and others. Five years hence, less than a month before the first phase of elections, the UPA faces its first major identity crisis.
The only two bright spots for the alliance at the moment are its tie-up with the Trinamool Congress for West Bengal’s 42 seats and unless there is a mess-up, an understanding with the NCP for 48 in Maharashtra. The Congress is likely to contest 14 in West Bengal and either 25 or 26 in Maharashtra.
Since elections in Tamil Nadu are in the last phase, the party is yet to work out an understanding with the DMK though it wants five more than the 10 it contested last time. But Karunanidhi may not agree to this.
With the collapse of seat sharing talks in Bihar—where it was often called an appendage of the RJD—and earlier with newfound ally SP in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress may find itself out of the reckoning in 120 Lok Sabha seats.
The party however, is trying to make the best of the bad situation in these two states where its presence is negligible. It now intends to field its candidates in around 50 seats in UP and 26 in Bihar in order to rebuild its base there.