Hours after snubbing the Congress by offering merely three seats to it in Bihar on Tuesday,RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav sought an appointment with Congress president Sonia Gandhi,expressing his desire to hold seat-sharing talks and reportedly offering two more seats.
However,in a sign of the winds blowing from 10 Janpath,till late on Wednesday evening,there was no response from her office. Instead,chairman of the AICC Screening Committee for Bihar Sushilkumar Shinde emerged out of the house to declare that the Congress which had demanded no less than 10 of the 40 seats in the state will contest more than 26 seats in Bihar.
The Congress also sewed up a seat-sharing agreement with the JMM in Jharkhand on Wednesday,leaving the RJD only the two seats it had won last time. Under the pact,the Congress will contest seven and the JMM five of the 14 seats in the state. “We have left two seats for the RJD,” AICC in-charge of Jharkhand K Keshav Rao announced here.
An undeterred Lalu declared today: My loyalty to Sonia Gandhi is more than that of any Congressman… Soniaji is a noble leader. I stand behind her like a rock and will do so in the future also. She will decide the next prime minister and I am sure that the next government will be formed under the leadership of Manmohan Singh. I am in touch with Mulayam and both of us are with Sonia Gandhi and our aim is to defeat communal and Fascist forces.
Asked about the Congress planning to contest many seats in Bihar,he said: What can I do?… It is necessary for us to contest the seats that we are contesting.
On Jharkhand,he said he would not upset the alliance and at best would contest one more seat than what was offered to him.
In a related development,the Congress also welcomed Bhumihar leader Ram Jatan Sinha back to the party fold; Sinha had left the Congress in 2005.
While there is consternation in the Congress camp over Lalu’s brinksmanship,the grand old party has concluded that it is a blessing in disguise,as a senior leader put it.
While the LJP-RJD deal gives them more leverage in the event of the so-called Third Front emerging as a major force,the Congress is not too pessimistic either given the prevailing uncertainty about the post-poll approach of parties like the JD(U). Besides,Sonia has made no bones about the party’s ultimate objective of regaining its lost ground and running the government unencumbered by coalition compulsions. She was learnt to have told some allies recently that if the Congress had to form a coalition government again,she would prefer it to be the least compromising.
Rahul Gandhi has also been in favour of reviving the party in states like Bihar and UP where the party has got decimated at the grassroots level due to its long association with regional parties,said a senior Congress leader.
What has,however,caused a lot of unease in the Congress camp is the way its allies,especially Lalu,decided to put an end to a decade-long relationship. He was playing evasive for over a fortnight when the Congress wanted to hold seat-sharing talks with him,said sources.
Subsequently,when we met him,he discussed the alliance in general,but never the specifics. And,suddenly,we have this announcement today, said a senior leader.