Congress seeks more seats, Opposition talks in West Bengal, Bihar come under strainhttps://indianexpress.com/elections/lok-sabha-polls-2019-congress-seeks-more-seats-opposition-talks-in-bengal-bihar-come-under-strain-5632945/

Congress seeks more seats, Opposition talks in West Bengal, Bihar come under strain

At stake in these two states are 82 Lok Sabha seats, crucial for the Opposition bid to upstage the BJP from power. The Congress has so far managed seat-sharing pacts in only Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Jharkhand and is racing against time to conclude these

Congress seeks more seats, Opposition talks in Bengal, Bihar come under strain
Congress President Rahul Gandhi with party general secretaries Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Jyotiraditya Madhavrao Scindia during a roadshow, in Lucknow (File/PTI Photo)

A day after the Congress decided to go alone in the Lok Sabha elections in West Bengal, the party Monday cleared names of candidates for 11 seats, including two sitting seats of the CPM. The CPM was planning a retaliation. In Bihar too, seat sharing talks between the Congress and RJD, though they are continuing, have come under severe strain with the Congress insisting it be given 11 seats.

At stake in these two states are 82 Lok Sabha seats, crucial for the Opposition bid to upstage the BJP from power. The Congress has so far managed seat-sharing pacts in only Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Jharkhand and is racing against time to conclude these — the Election Commission has issued notification for the first phase of polling in 91 Lok Sabha constituencies spread across 20 states on April 11. Click here for more election stories

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The Congress central election committee, which met in the morning, cleared the names of 11 candidates in West Bengal. These included Raiganj and Murshidabad, seats for which the CPM has already announced candidates. The Congress has decided to field Deepa Dasmunsi from Raiganj against CPM’s Mohd Salim.

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A senior CPM leader said the Congress insistence on 17 seats in West Bengal is “unrealistic” and the reason for the talks faltering. CPM sources said the party will be forced to withdraw its “no contest in sitting seats” offer and field candidates in four sitting seats of the Congress if the Congress decides to contest in Raiganj and Murshidabad.

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Sources in both CPM and RJD said it is for the Congress to decide whether the goal is to defeat the BJP or expand the party. In Bihar, the Congress is insisting on 11 seats while the RJD is not in a mood to give it more than eight seats. The RJD argument is that it has to accommodate several allies and these parties will have to be given “12 or 13 seats”.

A senior CPM leader said the Left offered not to contest in Congress’s four sitting seats besides offering them seven more seats. The CPM usually fights in 32 seats and the other Left parties in the remaining ten. “We suggested that the Left constituents fight in nine seats and the CPM in 22 seats. For the remaining seven seats, we can look for candidates who can defeat the BJP and the TMC… but the Congress is demanding 17 seats… the seats for which we have announced candidates are not in those 11 seats,” a senior CPM leader said.

Sources in both CPM and RJD said it is for the Congress to decide whether the goal is to defeat the BJP or expand the party.

In Kolkata, Left Front chairman Biman Bose asked the Congress to work towards “maximisation of anti-BJP and anti-TMC” votes and hoped that good sense will prevail. A Left Front meeting was held Monday at the state CPM headquarters where the party and its allies held discussions on fielding candidates.

In Patna, a close aide of RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav said the RJD and the Congress had contested in 27 and 13 seats each in the last elections. “But the alliance then had only two of us. Now we have to accommodate so many parties. They should at least get 12-13 seats. Both of us will have to bring down our share.”

“The Congress should decide whether it wants to defeat the BJP or build its party… it is their call… the Congress has to take a final call on saving the alliance by shedding arrogance,” the RJD leader said. More than the number of seats, negotiations between the RJD and the Congress are learnt to be stuck on the choice of seats, such as Darbhanga, Madhubani and Motihari.

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The RJD leadership of Lalu Prasad, Tejashwi Prasad Yadav (above) and Manoj Jha. (Express: Nagendra Kumar Singh)

The CPI and CPI(M-L) also expect the RJD to accommodate them in the grand alliance, with the CPI asking for Begusarai and the CPI(M-L) demanding Ara and Jehanabad seats. The Congress has been backing the CPI demand for the Begusarai seat to field former JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar.

RJD sources said Lalu Prasad offered eight seats to the Congress against its demand of 11. “The RJD is not going to contest less than 19-20 seats. Since the Congress does not have enough winnable candidates, we have offered a realistic number of seats, but the Congress has made it a prestige issue that it must get seats in double digits. We have to accommodate other parties… Congress has been told to show a large heart in the larger interest of the grand alliance,” RJD sources said.