A few hours after Lalu Prasad said his party is ready for a “lathbandhan (fight)” after returning from the Capital, the RJD chief softened his stand Saturday and offered 11 seats to the Congress and one to the NCP. The Congress, however, is unwilling to settle for less than 13 seats.
Even though the Congress may not be able to go it alone in Bihar, given the recent tie-up between the LJP and the BJP, the party is unhappy with Lalu “dictating” seat choices and “sparing” only those seats that do not favour his “caste combinations”.
A senior Congress leader said, “The RJD is offering us tough seats like Hajipur and Jamui from where Ramvilas Paswan and his son Chirag will contest.” The leader said the RJD is not offering seats like Sitamarhi, from where the Congress was a runner-up the last time. The Congress also wants the East Champaran seat for Akhilesh Singh.
“I have offered 11 seats to Congress and one to NCP’s Tariq Anwar. I have conveyed this to Congress leader C P Joshi and am now waiting the Congress response,” Lalu said.
RJD sources said the party wants the Madhubani seat for Abdul Bari Siddiqui and may offer Jhanjharpur in its place. But the Congress has already made its position clear on Madhubani, from where Shakil Ahmed can be fielded.
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An RJD source said the party cannot afford further rebellion and is clear on its choice of seats. “If we move Siddiqui from Madhubani to Darbhanga, where will we accommodate M A A Fatmi? Every party sees its social equations for the winning formula,” Lalu’s close aide said.
A senior Congress leader said Lalu had been offering seats where the upper caste can play a decisive role. Offering the Congress seats like Nawada, Munger and Khagaria, and keeping all seats with the Muslim-Yadav combination is a part of the RJD strategy, he said.
The Congress Bihar unit hopes the the alliance is sealed soon to avoid confusion among cadre. Though some young leaders have been pressuring Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi to go it alone in Bihar, most senior leaders are insisting on an alliance with the RJD to fight the formidable BJP-LJP-RLSP alliance and the JD(U)-CPI combine.
A top JD(U) leader, meanwhile, said it would be difficult for the party to scale down from its position of being part of a non-Congress and non-BJP front, even if the Congress does not strike an alliance with the RJD. “This can happen only on one condition — if the UPA government offers Bihar special category status. We should have something concrete to convince people,” said a leader close to the Bihar CM.