M A I N   N E W S

Cong may contest 160 seats in Bihar
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 5
The Congress has identified about 160-odd Assembly constituencies in Bihar where the party has a strong presence and can contest the coming elections either on its own or in an alliance.

The Congress is currently in the process of assessing its strength in each Assembly constituency in the run-up to the February poll. Though the exercise is expected to be completed in a week’s time, party leaders said their scrutiny, so far, had revealed that the party was well-placed in 160 seats.

Congress sources said this report, which will be submitted to Congress President Sonia Gandhi, would form the basis on which the party would conduct seat-sharing talks with the Laloo Prasad Yadav-led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).

From the looks of it, this promises to be a long haul. Despite his declaration of support to the UPA government at the Centre, the RJD is a tough negotiator. This is evident from his public statements that he will not give more than 10 seats of a total of 243 seats to the Congress. Earlier, there had been reports that Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav was willing to part with 25-30 seats.

Although formal seat-sharing parleys have yet to get underway, the two sides have begun positioning so as to drive a hard bargain. In this case, the RJD has a distinct advantage. It proved its complete sway in Bihar in the last Lok Sabha elections, virtually sweeping the state. Besides, it realises that the Congress is vulnerable. Not only has it been marginalised in the state, but it will be compelled to indulge Mr Yadav to ensure the stability of the UPA government at the Centre.

“We just cannot match Laloo’s aggression... there, he has a distinct edge over us,” remarked a glum-faced Congress leader while recalling how the RJD chief parted with only four seats in the Lok Sabha elections. This time round, he has much more at stake.

On its part, the Congress is hoping that the huge anti-Laloo sentiment in Bihar and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief Ram Vilas Paswan’s decision to go it alone will have a sobering effect on Mr Yadav. The possibility of Mr Paswan and Janata Dal (U) leader Nitish Kumar joining hands and forming an anti-Laloo front may help the Congress extract a better bargain from the RJD.

The Congress’s internal assessment is that if a strong and viable anti-Laloo front was to emerge, it could even dislodge the RJD.

The Congress state leaders have been pressing the party Central leadership to sever its links with the RJD. It is their contention that this will help revive the party in the state as upper castes and even minorities, which is the RJD’s main support base, are inclined to opt for the Congress provided it breaks away from the RJD.

As the countdown for the Assembly elections has begun, the Congress has planned that all its CWC members will fan out in different parts of the state in the coming days.

Their tours will be followed by Ms Sonia Gandhi’s programme, tentatively slated for this month-end.

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