The Opposition’s grand alliance in Bihar announced its seat-sharing Friday tying up — for the first time — with CPI-ML(Liberation) by giving it a seat but not accommodating the CPI which had asked for Begusarai for former JNU students’ union chief Kanhaiya Kumar.
Veteran leader Sharad Yadav, who heads Loktantrik Janata Dal, will contest on the RJD symbol. The Congress, which got nine, did not get some of its desired seats such as Aurangabad but was assured of being “compensated” with a Rajya Sabha seat against the first vacancy. This is the least number of seats Congress will contest in Lok Sabha polls in Bihar.
RJD national spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Kumar Jha announced that the RJD has kept 20 seats for itself, Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) will contest five seats and Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) and Vikasshil Insaan Party (VIP) three seats each. Jha announced seats and candidates for the first phase.
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While former CM and HAM(S) chief Jitan Ram Manjhi and Upendra Kumar will be Grand Alliance candidates from Gaya and Aurangabad, respectively, RJD has fielded former Nawada MLA Rajballabh Yadav’s wife Vibha Devi from Nawada. Yadav was sentenced to life last December in a rape case. RLSP has fielded Bhudev Choudhary from Jamui against LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan’s son and sitting MP Chirag Paswan.
One key takeaway from the seat-sharing announcement is RJD’s alliance with CPI-ML (Liberation) which will contest Ara with Raju Yadav as its candidate. Yadav will face BJP’s likely candidate and Union Minister R K Singh.
The CPI, which formed an alliance with RJD in the 1990 and 1995 Assembly polls, however, could not find place in Grand Alliance. RJD sources said RJD chief Lalu Prasad had never been comfortable with Kanhaiya Kumar’s candidature from Begusarai wary of his growing national stature vis–a-vis that of his son Tejashwi Yadav.
CPI Bihar secretary Satya Narain Singh said: “Kanhaiya Kumar will contest from Begusarai. Our party will meet on March 24 to decide candidates on other seats such as Madhubani, Khagaria and Banka. We wonder how RLSP with little base could be given five seats and CPI not considered for alliance with RJD”.
Bihar Congress leaders tried to put on a brave face despite being given nine seats as against their demand for 11. While the traditional Congress seat of Aurangabad went to HAM(S) inviting protest from supporters of senior Congress leader Nikhil Kumar, the party also reportedly has not yet been assured Darbhanga for Kirti Azad. An RJD source told The Indian Express: “While RJD, Congress and Vikasshil Insaan Party (VIP) want Darbhanga, Madhubani seat talk is stuck between RJD and Congress. East Champaran is caught between RLSP and Congress. No decision has been taken on Sitamarhi. Congress is unhappy and there would be another round of talks Saturday”. “RJD’s Rajya Sabha offer berth could be for Azad,” said an RJD source. Azad, however, said, “No final decision has been taken on some seats, including Darbhanga. I am relaxed and waiting to see what happens”.
Former MP Sharad Yadav will contest on RJD’s symbol from Madhepura. While Yadav had insisted to contest on the symbol of Loktantrik Janata Dal, RJD persuaded him to contest on the RJD symbol.
Upendra Kushwaha seems to be the biggest gainer, getting five seats, three of which are Karakat, Ujiyarpur and Jamui, and final discussions on two seats are still on.
EBC Mallah (boatman) leader and head of newly formed VIP Mukesh Sahni has got Katihar and Khagaria and is waiting to hear on his third seat. Sahni has been lobbying for Darbhanga.
The alliance seems to have stitched a social coalition that includes EBC leader Sahni and is hoping that OBC leader Kushwaha will dent Nitish Kumar’s Koeri-Kurmi vote bank and Manjhi will cut into Scheduled Caste votes. HAM(S) will contest Gaya, Aurangabad and Nalanda.
Top leaders like Tejashwi, Kushwaha, Yadav and Manjhi were conspicuous by their absence. Asked about this, RJD’s Jha said: “The top Grand Alliance leaders could not make it to press meet because of a last-minute change in format of the press meet.”
While Tejashwi was scheduled to address the press, senior leaders of the Grand Alliance, who were still busy discussing seats, wanted state leaders to hold the press conference. “After all, we have not seen any NDA top leader holding it,” said an RLSP leader.