It’s Congress’s turn to be bullied around by its allies – first in Uttar Pradesh, then Maharashtra and now, on Tuesday, Bihar. Its most trusted allies Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan have cut a deal behind its back, giving it practically nothing.
Bihar has 40 Lok Sabha seats. Prasad’s RJD will contest 25 of them and Paswan’s LJP 12, according to their announcement. They left the remaining three for the Congress, without so much as consulting it, laying bare cracks in the ruling UPA.
The Congress is fuming.
Senior leader Sushilkumar Shinde said the deal was “completely unacceptable”. And added there was no contact with Prasad or Paswan in the last two days and ruled out any possibility of talking to them now. “Our workers are very angry.’’
The body blow to the Congress in Bihar comes close on the heels of the collapse of the seat sharing talks with the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh — with Samajwadi having already fielded candidates for 76 of the state’s 80 parliamentary seats.
Taking a dig at the Congress, Samajwadi general secretary Amar Singh said: “We have to learn from Lalu and Paswan how to offer less seats to the Congress and still keep them happy”.
Congress is, of course, far from happy. But sources in the UPA said it has only itself to blame, having rejected earlier this month, a demand from its allies to have a national pre-poll seat-sharing arrangement.
Prasad, for one, had gone on record in support of the demand for a national alliance. So had Paswan and few other allies such as the NCP’s Sharad Pawar. Congress is getting trouble now from these very leaders.
The formation of the Third Front as an alternative may also be behind the allies’ new-found sense of independence, said sources in the Congress, not wanting to be identified given the sensitivity of their observation.
If the UPA doesn’t look anywhere near the magic figure and if Prasad’s RJD has enough MPs to tip the balance in favour of the Third Front, for a prize post, he may want to retain the option of walking across.
Both Prasad and Paswan said they had no such plan. Addressing a news conference to announce their alliance, they said they’d remain in the UPA even after the elections. So there.
But they argue contesting elections was quite another matter. “We are contesting the elections to win and not to increase the number of contestants of respective parties,’’ Prasad said, adding: “The alliance has been firmed up to strengthen secular forces and keep communal forces at bay. This is the need of the hour”.
And then the cut. “We have given the Congress what is due to it,” said Prasad.
The Congress would now want to contest about 20 seats in Bihar, particularly in constituencies dominated by minorities, Other Backward Castes and Scheduled Castes. It may also open its doors to RJD rejects like Sadhu Yadav, Jai Narain Nishad, Taslimuddin and others who descended at Shinde’s residence on Tuesday.
Now all eyes in the Congress are on talks with the NCP for seat sharing in Maharashtra. Pawar is currently engaged in hard bargaining with the Congress for the 48 parliamentary seats of Maharashtra.
His party initially called for a reversal of the 2004 formula (when the Congress contested 26 seats against the NCP’s 22) but is now pressing for a 50:50 share. The Congress, however, wants to continue with the 2004 arrangement.