M A I N   N E W S

RJD, Left, NCP to fight jointly in Bihar
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 12
In a clear game of oneupmanship, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Left parties and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) today said they would contest next month’s Bihar and Jharkhand elections together and announce their seat-sharing arrangement in Patna on January 14.

This virtual “ultimatum” to the Congress came close on the heels of a one-hour inconclusive meeting between Congress President Sonia Gandhi and RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav.

While the four UPA allies joined forces in an effort to mount pressure on the Congress, the latter reciprocated the sentiment as Ms Gandhi’s discussions with Mr Yadav were followed immediately with a meeting with his bete noire, LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan, who was quick to offer the Bihar Chief Ministership to the Congress if it joined hands with his party.

There is an urgency in the UPA camp to arrive at some kind of a settlement on seat distribution as January 17 is the last date for filing nominations for the first round of elections.

This was reflected in the day-long hectic political activity in the Capital today. RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav had two meetings with the Left parties and the NCP—before and after his discussion with Ms Gandhi. Mr Ahmed Patel, Congress President’s Political Secretary, also called on Mr Yadav who left for Patna this evening.

Earlier, emerging from his meeting with the Congress President, Mr Yadav did not rule out the possibility of the two parties going in for “friendly contests” in some seats. At the same time, he declared that their differences would not strain relations between the RJD and the Congress, nor would it effect the UPA government at the Centre.

Speaking to reporters after the joint meeting of the two Left parties, RJD and NCP, CPM leader Sitaram Yechury maintained that though it was their effort to get the Congress on board, the four UPA allies would contest the Assembly elections together and that they would now announce their seat-sharing arrangement in Patna on January 14. He was, however, quick to clarify that they were not forming a ginger group within the UPA and that talks with the Congress were continuing.

“The ball is now in the Congress court...we are waiting for them to get back to us,” he added.

So far, they have remained deadlocked as the RJD and the Congress have been unable to arrive at a mutually acceptable formula for seat-sharing. The RJD pointed out that any seat distribution had to be on the basis of the seats which a party won and came second in the last election.

Stating that since the Congress had used this yardstick in Jharkhand, it should accept the same in Bihar. Going by this formula, the Congress is unlikely to get more than 25-30 seats.

Rejecting the RJD formula, the Congress has asked for 70 seats on the plea that the ground situation has changed in its favour since the formation of the UPA government at the Centre. Disagreeing with the Congress, the RJD chief is learnt to have asked the Congress to come up with an alternative principle for seat- sharing.

In her meeting with Mr Yadav this morning, Ms Sonia Gandhi is learnt to have explained her compulsions. The Congress, it was stated, needs to have a presence in a key state like Bihar. Having contested 200 seats in the last election, the party would be faced with a virtual revolt in its state unit if it accepts the 30-odd seats being offered by the RJD.

Given the tough posturing on both sides, the possibility of the Congress and the RJD going in for “friendly” contests on some seats was not being ruled out. UPA sources said though Mr Yadav would ideally like to have an alliance with the Congress, he was not averse to the Congress going alone as it would divide the upper caste vote and that would work to the RJD’s advantage.

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