While the Congress has kick-started its campaign for the Bihar elections by holding district-level virtual rallies, the continuing lack of clarity over the contours of the RJD-led Grand Alliance and the uncertainty over the number and identification of seats to be contested by each of the constituents is causing unease in the party and in some of the allies.
Sources said RJD and Congress are not on the same page on accommodating smaller parties like the Upendra Kushwaha-led RLSP and Mukesh Sahni-led Vikas-sheel Insaan Party (VIP) and this divergence in views is proving to be a hurdle.
According to Congress sources, the RJD is not keen on giving many seats to the smaller parties and has even told the Congress leadership that these parties can contest on RJD and Congress symbols. Sources in the Congress said they understand the RJD’s point of view that these parties are not able to ensure complete transfer of their caste votes but believe all efforts should be made to ensure that there is no division of anti-NDA and anti-incumbency votes.
“Our leaders keep saying that Congress will contest 70 plus seats. But there is no clarity on which are these seats. Virtual rallies are fine. But we have to address the main issue first — clarity on alliance, number of seats, which seats and which candidate… these are the four stages and we are yet to cross the first,” a Congress leader said.
Senior RJD leaders said that while there is a broad consensus between the RJD, Congress and the CPI(ML) Liberation, which holds three seats in the outgoing Assembly, the inclusion of RLSP and VIP is yet to be worked out.
A steep challenge for Opposition
A senior leader said, “Realistically, one of the big possibilities is a hung Assembly, or a tight race where post-poll alliances may be needed. We are confident that candidates of the RJD, Congress and the Left will largely be able to resist the BJP. The problem is the smaller parties, and whether their candidates will be amenable to the lures, and if they will go en masse because of smaller numbers. That is a problem.”
Congress leaders said that if the RLSP and VIP were to agree to “reasonable demands”, a united front against the Nitish-led alliance would send a good message. “This is a complicated issue. In some areas, smaller parties can bring us votes of those who will not be comfortable voting for the RJD. Jitan Ram Manjhi wanted far too much, but it does add to the perception of a fractured opposition. So, everyone coming to an understanding is the best-case scenario. One idea is that RJD, Congress and Left parties come to a broad understanding, and the smaller parties are accommodated by the two senior partners,” a leader said.
Another RJD leader, however, said the argument that smaller parties would fetch votes from non-Yadavs could work either way. “From the ground, it is clear that one of the themes of this election is anti-incumbency against Nitish Kumar. People will look for the strongest alternative on the ballot, which is Tejashwi Yadav. He is a young face and the only challenger to Kumar,” the leader said.
A senior Congress leader, who is part of the talks, said that while a resolution is hoped for, smaller parties are so far “asking for too much”. “We want a compromise but the VIP for instance has said they want 25 to 30 seats, and even proposed the Deputy CM post. The RLSP can then say they are a bigger party and want more than that. There are question marks about their vote transferability. If they ask for too much, then going without them and just the RJD-Congress-Left may be a possibility.”
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