JD (U) in talks with Congress to merge for assembly polls
The ruling JD (U) is understood to be wooing the Congress to join forces with it for the forthcoming state legislative council polls so that it can have better bargaining power vis-a-vis the RJD in forging a broader anti-BJP alliance for the assembly polls.
JD (U) chief Nitish Kumar (left) and Congress chief (Patna) Ashok Choudhary (Right) meet at state secretariat.
On Monday, state Congress chief Ashok Choudhary met chief minister Nitish Kumar at the state main secretariat, which triggered off speculation that the two parties might make common cause over seat sharing for the assembly polls due in October.
Confirming he met Nitish, Choudhary said it was to discuss the issue of the farmers ongoing agitation at Bihta, west of the state capital, for payment of compensation for their land acquired earlier for a slew of important projects.
"The CM has assured me he will meet a delegation of farmers very soon to resolve the issue," said the state Congress chief.
But he did not have much to say on whether the seat sharing arrangement for the council polls was discussed at the meeting. "Talks are still going on," he said.
But sources said the current tiff between JD (U) and RJD over the 'merger'of the two parties sharing the "Janata" name had prompted the JD (U) top brass to look for alternative political alignments, including the Congress and the left parties.
As such, the JD (U) is said to be showing more eagerness to woo the Congress by accommodating its demands for choice seats in the forthcoming state council election for 24 seats from local bodies.
"The JD (U) may even consider giving up two council seats on which it has sitting members to accommodate the Congress, even though there is already a broad agreement between RJD-JD(U) to contest 10 seats each,"said a JD (U) leader.
Sources said there was a dispute ver the Sitarmarhi seat, o which the RJD has a sitting member but which the congress wanted for its own candidate. The Congress had made it clear it would go for an alliance with the RJD-JD(U) combine but "without compromising on its dignity". In concrete terms, this translated in the party's insistence that it would contest at least four out of 24 council seats.
But sources voiced the possibility the Congress might settle for three seats, if it was offered its choice seats. Water resources minister and No. 2 in the state cabinet Vijay Choudhary underscored the importance of the Congress in JD (U) scheme of things.
"We have always wanted Congress to be part of the secular alliance not only in council polls but in coming assembly elections, too. We showed out commitment by having an alliance with the party in the assembly by-polls last year," he said.
Evidently, the JD(U)'s strategy is to give the Congress the slot of an 'arbiter'in the talks for a larger secular alliance of which RJD- JD(U) and even left parties could be part so as to keep the BJP at bay.
Sources in the JD (U) leadership believe JD (U)-Congress bonhomie could put more pressure on RJD chief Lalu Prasad to play positive on the merger/alliance issue out of fear he might be alienated if he failed to play ball.
The JD (U) has already shown its reservations over Prasad's open invitation to former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi to join the proposed anti-BJP alliance.
It is also cut up over the RJD chief's reluctance to declare Nitish as the CM candidate of the alliance.
Insiders also point out Kumar has good equations with the Congress' top brass and had received praise from Congress national vice president Rahul Gandhi for good governance in Bihar.
"The Congress remains a catalyst for the larger secular alliance as it still has good vote base, especially among minorities, upper castes and dalits. As such, both the RJD and JD(U) want to have the Congress on board. This is expected to persuade them to thrash out their differences," said a senior JD (U) leader.