Seat-sharing talks between Bihar's ruling mahagathbandhan allies have run into very rough weather. The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) led alliance has the Janata Dal (United), Congress, CPI(ML) and other Left parties as its constituents.
The reasons behind acrimony are two fold.
First, the JD(U) announced a seat sharing formula without consulting its allies.
Second, unhappy with the formula the Congress shot back saying JD(U)'s success in previous election was largely thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi canvassing for it. The implication is that Nitish Kumar was not the primary vote getter.
According to the JD(U)'s seat sharing formula the two major constituents of the mahagathbandhan--the RJD and JD(U)--will contest from 17 seats each. Of the remaining 6 seats (Bihar has 40 Lok Sabha seats), the Congress was given five seats and the CPI(ML) one.
The Congress reacted strongly to this formula and rejected it straight away. Mukul Wasnik, who heads the party’s national alliance committee, told JD(U)’s Sanjay Kumar Jha that allocating only five seats to the Congress amounted to a “grave insult”.
Another senior Congress leader who is also a member of the committee reportedly told Manoj Jha, who has been deputed by his party leadership to hold seat-sharing talks, that accepting the formula mooted by the JD(U) would amount to betrayal of Congress workers in Bihar.
Manoj Jha reportedly pointed out that the JD(U) had contested from 17 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and had bagged 16 of those seats while it came a close second in the other seat (Kishanganj, which it lost to the Congress).
Hence, argued Jha, the JD(U) has a very strong case for contesting from all the 16 seats it won five years ago as well as Kishanganj.
At this, a senior Congress leader argued that the JD(U) won so many seats in Bihar in 2019 as an ally of the BJP and that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other top BJP leaders had campaigned extensively for the JD(U) candidates.
The inference was that the JD(U) won 16 Lok Sabha seats from Bihar in 2019 not on its own steam, but because of the BJP’s backing.
The JD(U) leadership, especially Nitish Kumar, bristled at this suggestion and put its foot down, saying that its decision to contest from 17 seats was non-negotiable.
Nitish Kumar, who believes he is the tallest leader in Bihar, felt particularly insulted at the Congress leader’s suggestion that it was because of Prime Minister Modi, and not him, that the JD(U) won 16 Lok Sabha seats in 2019.
“Nitish Kumar took that as a personal insult and has declared that come what may, the JDU) will contest from 17 seats. He (Kumar) said that the JD(U) would win all the 17 seats and prove to the Congress that it won the 16 seats last time on its own. Kumar also wants to show that he remains the foremost political leader in Bihar,” a senior JD(U) leader and a close confidant of Kumar told Swarajya from Patna.
“We (the JD-U) do not have to participate in seat-sharing talks. We will contest from 17 seats and that’s final. Seat-sharing talks will be held for the remaining 23 seats between the RJD, Congress and Left parties. It is up to them how they share those 23 seats,” JD(U) general secretary K.C.Tyagi told Swarajya.
Nitish Kumar has, as it is, been very unhappy with the Congress leadership for not making him the convenor of the INDIA Bloc till now.
The RJD, which is the big brother in the mahagathbandhan, is unwilling to contest from a lesser number of seats than the JD(U). The RJD has suggested to the JD(U) to settle for 15 seats to contest from.
“If the JD(U) agrees to that, we will also contest from 15 seats and leave the remaining ten seats for the Congress and CPI(ML). The Congress can then contest from seven or eight seats and the CPI(ML) from the remaining two or three seats,” an RJD leader told Swarajya.
But the JD(U) has rejected this suggestion. That has generated considerable anger among RJD leaders who feel that the INDI Alliance can unravel in Bihar because of the JD(U)’s, especially Nitish Kumar’s, rigidity.
A piqued Congress has now indicated that the party is ready to contest all 40 Lok Sabha seats from the state. The All India Congress Committee (AICC) has appointed party leaders as coordinators for all the 40 seats in Bihar.
“The appointment of coordinators for the 40 Lok Sabha seats indicates our party leadership’s resolve to go it alone if we are not given a respectable number of seats. Giving us only five of the 40 seats to contest from is a grave insult. We want seven to eight seats at least,” said a senior Congress leader.
State Congress president Akhilesh Prasad Singh told party chief Kharge that the leadership should not accept any “disrespectful” seat-sharing deal. He also gave the RJD leadership a list of ten Lok Sabha seats from Bihar that the party wants to contest from.
“The seat-sharing negotiations ought to start from ten seats and not five seats that the JD(U) wants to allocate to us,” said the Congress leader.
But with the JD(U) unwilling to climb down and the Congress also firm on its resolve to reject the ‘five seat offer’, the alliance in Bihar is headed for choppy waters.
In case the Congress ultimately goes alone in Bihar, it will deal a big blow to the INDI Alliance which was actually birthed in the state (Bihar) by Kumar.
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