In what can be bad news for the Indian National Developmental Inclusive (INDI) Alliance, serious differences over seat-sharing for the Lok Sabha elections next year have cropped up during preliminary discussions between partners of the ruling Mahagathbandhan in Bihar.
The junior partners of the alliance--the Congress, CPI, CPI(M) and the CPI(ML-Liberation)--who are also constituents of the INDI Alliance at the national level, have laid claim to many more seats than what the major partners--the RJD and the JD(U)--are willing to concede to them.
The RJD and the JD(U) have decided, amongst themselves, to contest an equal number of Lok Sabha seats from Bihar. But they have kept the seat-sharing discussions between themselves for a later stage once a seat-sharing formula with their junior allies is decided upon.
“Once we reach an agreement with the Congress and the four Left parties on how many and which seats they will contest from, we will start talks with the RJD on the remaining seats. But on principle, our party chairman (Nitish Kumar) and RJD chief Lalu Yadav have decided that both the parties (RJD and JD-U) will contest from an equal number of (Lok Sabha) seats,” a senior JD(U) leader told Swarajya from Patna.
But it is junior partners who want a much larger number of seats than what the RJD-JD(U) combine has in mind for them.
According to senior leaders of the RJD and JD(U), the two parties are looking at fielding candidates from 16 seats each. Of the remaining eight seats (Bihar has 40 Lok Sabha seats), the two senior mahagathbandhan partners want to allot four seats to the Congress, two to the CPI(ML-Liberation) and one each to the CPI and CPI(M).
This formula, the four junior partners have conveyed to Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar, is totally unacceptable to them.
The Congress, Bihar Congress president Akhilesh Prasad Singh said, wants to contest at least eight to nine seats. The CPI(ML-Liberation) wants a minimum of five seats and the CPI and CPI(M) are keen on contesting two to three seats each.
If these demands of the junior allies are to be met, the RJD-JD(U) combine will be left with only 22 seats, and will be able to contest from eleven seats each.
“We have 16 MPs now and giving up any Lok Sabha seat which we won in 2019 is out of the question,” a senior JD(U) leader who is also a cabinet minister told Swarajya.
Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar had decided amongst themselves that the foundation of the seat-sharing formula will be the percentage of votes bagged by a claimant in a particular seat in 2019.
That means that the JD(U), with its 16 sitting MPs, will contest from these seats. And since it was decided that the RJD (it drew a blank in 2019) will also contest from an equal number of seats, only eight remaining seats can be allotted to the four junior partners.
But since that is not acceptable to the Congress and Left parties, the only way out is for the JD(U) to give up its claim on some of the 16 seats it had won in 2019. But that, again, is unacceptable to Nitish Kumar.
The Congress’ position:
“The Congress won one seat in 2019, but we came a close second in some other seats. In 2019, the JD(U) contested the elections as part of the NDA and it was due to the transfer of BJP votes to its candidates that it (the JD-U) could win such a large number of seats,” Bihar Congress chief Akhilesh Prasad Singh told Swarajya.
Singh added that the Congress has become stronger after Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat jodo yatraI. “We won back the two major states of Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh from the BJP. We deserve at least nine seats and are confident of winning all of them,” Singh added.
In 2019, the JD(U) won 16 seats while the BJP won 17 and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP)--a constituent of the NDA--won six. The Congress was the only party in the RJD-led mahagathbandhan which could win a seat.
Another Congress leader who did not want to be named told Swarajya that the JD(U) could win 16 seats because of its alliance with the BJP.
“The 2019 elections were like presidential elections and the NDA’s campaign revolved around Narendra Modi. All votes were cast for Modi and NDA partners benefited from that. Thus, too much weightage should not be given to the JD(U)’s 2019 tally of 16 seats since it did not win most of those seats on its own steam,” the Congress leader, who was a minister in the last mahagathbandhan government, said.
The Congress leader added: “The JD(U) should remember that it won only two Lok Sabha seats in 2014 when it fought the elections on its own. We (Congress) also won two seats in 2014”.
The Left parties’ position:
CPI(ML-Liberation) leader Dipankar Bhattacharya said that his party has already written to Lalu Yadav on the seats it is keen on contesting from. Party sources said six Lok Sabha seats that the CPI(ML-Liberation) is keen on contesting from have been listed in the letter.
The CPI(ML-Liberation), in its letter to Yadav, has also enumerated the reasons justifying its demand for the seats it has asked for.
“We have a strong presence in Shahabad (present-day Arrah district), the Magadh division (comprising Nawada, Gaya, Aurangabad, Arwal and Jehanabad districts) and the Saran division (Saran, Siwan and Gopalganj districts). In fact, we have been growing in strength in those districts and so we have demanded six seats from our strongholds,” said Bhattacharyya.
Other CPI(ML-Liberation) leaders told Swarajya that the party has gained a lot of strength in large parts of Patna, Bhojpur, Jehanabad, Arwal, Rohtas, Buxar, Siwan, Katihar and West Champaran districts.
The CPI and the CPI(M) contend that though they did not win any seats in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, they should be given at least two seats to contest from.
Leaders of the two parties said they have gained in strength in Begusarai, Saran and Samastipur districts.
“Our demand for two seats is in the spirit of coalition dharma. This dharma entails that the major partners in a coalition ought to be accommodative and should be willing to sacrifice their own interests to some extent to keep the junior partners happy and keep the coalition going. We are also very strong in Kerala and ruling that state, but are willing to sacrifice our interests to some extent and accommodate our allies there,” said a CPI(M) state committee leader.
But RJD-JD(U) not likely to concede
But the RJD-JD(U) combine is dismissive of such demands. “All the partners of the alliance (the mahagathbandhan) should undertake a reality check and get a practical and realistic assessment of their own strengths before putting forward their demands,” said a senior RJD leader who is close to Lalu Yadav.
He pointed out that two parties (the CPI and CPM) could win only two Assembly seats each in 2020. “For parties which won just two seats in 2020 to demand an equal number of Lok Sabha seats four years later is ridiculous. Are they living in a make-believe world?” he wondered.
The CPI(ML), he said, had also failed to win a single Lok Sabha seat in 2014 and 2019 and was not even in a runner-up position in any seat. “To now demand five seats is too much. For the sake of coalition dharma, we cannot sacrifice seats to our weaker coalition partners and then see those seats going to the NDA,” said an RJD leader.
The JD(U) is also clear in its mind that it will contest all the seats that it won from in 2019.
What’s more is that in addition to the 16 seats it won in 2019, the JD(U) has also conveyed to its coalition partner (RJD) that it is keen on contesting from Darbhanga, which was won by the BJP in 2019. The BJP defeated the RJD’s Abdul Bari Siddique by a huge margin of more than 2.67 lakh votes.
Both the RJD and CPI(ML-Liberation) have staked initial claims to the Arrah seat which the BJP won in 2019 by defeating the CPI(ML-Liberation) by a margin of more than 1.47 lakh votes. In 2014, too, the BJP won the seat but the nearest rival that time was the RJD (whose candidate lost by a margin of more than 1.35 lakh votes), but the CPI(M) was the second runner up. Even though the CPI(M) candidate trailed behind the RJD candidate by more than 1.19 lakh votes, the CPI(ML-Liberation) is staking its claim to this seat.
The Madhubani seat, which the RJD lost to the BJP in 2014 and 2019, is being eyed by the CPI. The RJD and CPI are both laying claim to the Begusarai seat which the CPI lost to the BJP in 2019 and the RJD lost to the BJP in 2014.
Other seats where multiple mahagathbandhan partners have laid claims include Motihari, Nawada, Pataliputra, Aurangabad and Karakat.
Seat-sharing, thus, will be far from an easy exercise in Bihar. And that is bad news for the INDI Alliance which has Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar amongst its foremost proponents.
Both have been stressing on the principle of ‘give and take’ for amicable seat-sharing between different partners of the pan-India alliance to take on the BJP. But this principle is being laid to a severe test in their own home state.
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