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LJP goes soft on Narendra Modi, but says talks with Congress still on

LJP is cosying up to the BJP but, at the same time, negotiating seats with the Congress and its partners.

 LJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan along with his son Chirag Paswan attending a rally of railway porters in New Delhi on Thursday. LJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan along with his son Chirag Paswan attending a rally of railway porters in New Delhi on Thursday.

Amid heightened speculation on an alliance with the BJP, LJP today appeared to be going soft on Narendra Modi with party chief Ram Vilas Paswan’s son saying that the Gujarat Chief Minister’s alleged involvement in 2002 riots is not an issue after a court gave him a clean chit.

“If the court has given its verdict and they say he (Modi) is clean, then I do not think it is an issue to talk about now,” Chirag Paswan told reporters when asked about the riots case against the BJP prime ministerial candidate.

The remarks of the leader, who heads the LJP Parliamentary Board, are significant as his father Ram Vilas Paswan was the first minister to quit the NDA government over post-Godhra riots.

However, another senior leader maintained that the possibility of an alliance with RJD and Congress is still alive.

Answering questions about LJP cosying up to BJP, and whether LJP’s alliance with Congress and RJD has broken up, Paswan said, “Yes I will agree to the fact that there has been a distrust in the party leaders because there is no clarity over alliance (with Congress and RJD). That’s why very soon, we can have Parliamentary Board meeting in which we are going to decide what our future strategy is going to be.”

Party Secretary General Abdul Khalik, however, told PTI, “It is not yet over. Talks are going on.”

Khalik, who had been negotiating from the LJP side with Congress and RJD on seat sharing, said he is not involved in any alliance talks with BJP but parried questions on whether talks with the BJP are going on or not.

Asked whether LJP’s talks are continuing with BJP for alliance in Bihar, he merely said, “I am not involved in that.”

“The party is feeling suffocated and cornered because negotiations (with Congress and RJD) in last three months have not yielded the desired result. LJP is getting an impression that it is not wanted in the alliance,” he said.

Sources said that LJP leaders from Bihar are primarily involved in talks with BJP. BJP MP Shahnawaj Hussein had called on LJP a few days back while senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad had visited Paswan on January 14 on the day of Makar Sankranti.

Both the visits were downplayed by the BJP leaders then. A former LJP MP from Bihar, Surajbhan Singh, had yesterday said that the LJP will enter into an alliance with BJP and a formal announcement would be made very soon.

Ram Vilas Paswan had been a minister in both BJP-led NDA and Congress-led UPA-I governments while his party is currently supporting UPA II from outside.

Congress sources said that LJP had given a list of 10 seats it wanted to contest out of 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar to AICC general secretary in-charge for Bihar C P Joshi in January itself. Apparently,  the party last week told leaders from Congress and RJD that it is ready to settle for nine seats. LJP, which had fought the last Lok Sabha polls in alliance with RJD minus Congress, failed to open its account.

“But we notched second position on nine seats that we are demanding. The problem is that most of these seats are now being eyed by Congress or RJD,” a LJP leader said on condition of anonymity.

If LJP allies with the BJP, it will mean the party completing a full circle on the issue of alliance.

A few days back, Paswan  indicated of a possible alignment with JD(U) by praising Nitish Kumar and maintaining that there are “two views” within his party with some favouring an alliance with RJD and others with the JD(U).

Paswan’s party had been an alliance partner of NDA government but the LJP chief was the first to quit the BJP-led alliance in 2002 post-Godhra riots when Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat.

After LJP quitting NDA, six other parties had also quit the alliance in quick succession and NDA had virtually disintegrated paving the way for Congress-led UPA to come to power in 2004.

Paswan had joined the UPA alliance in 2004 and became a cabinet minister. His party had then got only four seats. RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav was Railway Minister in UPA-I. After a bitter rivalry for some time in UPA-I, the two had inched closer by the end of 2008.

In 2009 Lok Sabha polls, while RJD and LJP fought together, Congress walked out of the alliance.

In 2004, when Congress, RJD and LJP had contested together in Bihar they had won 29 of the forty seats with RJD winning 22, LJP 4 and Congress 3.

In 2009, when they fought minus Congress, LJP failed to open its account and Paswan himself lost from home turf Hajipur, RJD won only four seats and Congress two.

This time both Paswan and Prasad have shown inclination to ally with Congress. While Prasad met Congress President Sonia Gandhi as well as Rahul Gandhi, Paswan had also held consultation with the Congress Chief on the issue. There where, however, some hitches on the issue of seat sharing.

RJD Supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav had yesterday said that exclusion was not his policy.

“He is a Dalit leader and we don’t have any feeling of disrespect towards him. In our eyes, the leader (Surajbhan Singh) who has made this announcement, is not a big leader.

Our target in these elections is Modi as we have to save the country from disintegration,” he had said.

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