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Cong putting pressure on RJD for more seats

Tuesday 11 January 2005, by KATYAL*Anita

Faced with the prospect of being consigned permanently to the margins in a key state like Bihar, the Congress is bargaining hard with its ally, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), for a respectable share of seats in next month’s assembly elections.

It is learnt it has presented a list of close to 90 assembly seats to the RJD where the Congress believes it is in contention. Although the real bargaining will get under way tomorrow when RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav meets the Congress negotiating team, comprising Mr Arjun Singh and Mr M.L.Fotedar, a preliminary round was held today by the second-rung leaders of the two parties.

Union ministers Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and Prem Gupta had a long meeting with Congress leaders Harikesh Bahadur and L.P. Sahi tonight.

Clearly unhappy with the RJD’s offer of 25-odd seats, the Congress is mounting pressure on Mr Yadav for more on the plea that its profile in the state has improved substantially after the formation of the UPA Government at the Centre.

It also believes that Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s personal charisma and enhanced standing since her renunciation of the Prime Minister’s post will stand the party in good stead.

In his meeting with the RJD chief on Sunday evening, Congress leader Arjun Singh is learnt to have pointed out that the seat-sharing in the coming election could not be based on the 2000 poll. The two parties had contested separately then and the Congress position had improved since then.

What is left unsaid is the fact that as an incumbent party, the RJD is at a distinct disadvantage. It was also indicated that if the RJD is liberal in its seat-sharing in Bihar, the Congress could concede a couple of extra seats to it in Jharkhand.

While the Congress feels this is its last chance to revive the party in Bihar, it also believes it can afford to pressurise Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav as the RJD needs the Congress more than the other way round.

The RJD, in its assessment, cannot afford to walk out of the alliance as it would impact adversely on his minority support base.

Besides, the RJD today has two key portfolios like Railways and rural development at the Centre which it would be loathe to part with. The Congress is also learnt to have drawn Mr Yadav’s attention to how it had support “tainted” party colleagues despite the Opposition attack.

The RJD, on its part, maintains that going by the 2000 election results, the Congress is entitled to 17 seats which it presently holds and where it was second. Going by this formula, the RJD said there are 19 “open” seats where neither side has a definite claim and which had to be negotiated. Although the RJD is fighting hard to protect its political space, it is not in a mood to push matters beyond a point as it does not want to be blamed for walking out of a secular alliance.

Nevertheless, the RJD leaders unofficially maintain that if they cannot finalise a seat-sharing arrangement, the two parties could “agree to disagree” and contest separately, euphemistically termed as “friendly contests.”

See online : The Tribune

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