M A I N   N E W S

Cong, RJD fail to reach consensus
‘Friendly contests’ likely
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 13
Having failed to forge a formal alliance with its UPA allies, the Congress today decided to go ahead and contest 80 seats in next month’s Bihar assembly elections. This indicated the likelihood of “friendly contests” among the UPA partners in several seats.

There was no offical announcement from the two camps but senior Congress leaders maintained that this decision would not impact the UPA government at the Centre or the relations among the alliance partners as it had everybody’s broad consent.

According to the compromise formula under discussion, the Congress will not field candidates in the seats presently held by the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Left parties and the allies will do likewise by not putting up contestants in constituencies where the Congress won last time. As for the rest, the allies would go in for friendly contests though efforts would be made to minimise the division in secular votes.

The Congress decision was made known after day-long internal discussions by senior party leaders where there was a general consensus that RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav’s offer of 30-odd seats was not acceptable. Mr Yadav had met Congress president Sonia Gandhi yesterday but the seat-sharing talks remained deadlocked.

Mr Yadav had insisted that the distribution of tickets be done on the basis of the performance of the parties in the last assembly elections.

With the Congress refusing to budge from its demand of 70 seats, the RJD along with the Left parties and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) issued it a virtual ultimatum, stating that the four allies would contest the elections unitedly and that they would be declaring their seat-sharing agreement in Patna on January 14.

The possibility of a rapprochement appeared unlikely as the Congress party’s Central Election Committee (CEC) was sitting till late tonight finalising the names of candidates for the first round of elections on February 3. The Congress is under tremendous pressure from its state unit who had threatened a virtual revolt if its leaders gave in to the RJD.

For the record, however, both sides continued to maintain that their talks were still on and it was their effort to see that secular forces contest unitedly. Saying as much in Patna at a press conference, RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav asserted that seat-sharing talks with the Congress were still on. However, he also indicated that friendly contests with the Congress could not be ruled out.

Congress spokesperson Girija Vyas spoke in the same vein. While stating that the Congress would contest a “respectable number of seats”, she said talks with the UPA partners was continuing as the party did not want a division in the secular forces.

The public posturing on both sides was essentially meant to escape responsibility of creating fissures in the secular alliance.

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