The RJD wants to wrap up a poll agreement by the end of January but seat-sharing talks have begun exposing cracks in the alliance.
Patna: The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), taking the lead in cobbling together an opposition coalition in Bihar ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, wants to wrap up a seat-sharing deal by the end of January but its efforts are being bogged down by the sheer number of parties in the alliance.
With the addition of one-time BJP allies — the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) led by former union minister Upendra Kushwaha and the Mukesh Sahani-led Vikasshil Insaan Party (VIP) — the alliance looks set to be comprised of seven parties, all of which are vying for a piece of Bihar’s 40 Lok Sabha seats.
While the Congress wants 12 seats, the CPI and Sahani’s party are seeking three each and the CPI-ML, the RLSP and the Jitan Ram Manjhi-led Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) want four each.
There is also speculation that the RJD is keen to leave the Gopalganj parliamentary seat, located by the UP border, to the BSP in a bid to keep Mayawati in good humour.
But the clamour for seats has left the RJD in a quandary. “If we accept the demands, the RJD will be left with nothing,” said a senior party leader who is also a former MP.
“The Congress is a fringe player in Bihar and would do well to confine itself to states where it is in a direct contest with the BJP,” said another former RJD MP. “Besides, after former speaker Meira Kumar and now former MP Tariq Anwar they have no candidate who is looking like a winning one.”
Former union minister and senior RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh said the party has its task cut out in working out a deal. “We are facing a problem of plenty,” Singh said. “Each constituent is bargaining hard for seats. It will have to be a delicate balancing act.”
RJD sources, however, indicated that RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav is keen on working out a seat-sharing arrangement by the end of the month and has already met some of the coalition partners.
“He (Lalu) has also asked Sharad Yadav to contest on an RJD ticket,” said an RJD leader, declaring that Lalu was a past master at deciding on seat-sharing and that he would stress on allies declaring their candidates before he allots them seats.
Cracks begin to emerge
The seat-sharing talks have also begun exposing cracks in the possible alliance.
On Wednesday, the RLSP’s Bihar president Nagmani took exception to reports that the likely opposition candidate for Jehanabad Lok Sabha constituency — the RJD’s Surendra Yadav — had already begun campaigning in the seat.
“It may be noted that Surendra Yadav has lost in Jehanabad twice. Every time he contests, other non-Yadav castes unite against him,” Nagmani told ThePrint.
The RLSP leader has been demanding Jehanabad for his wife and Chatra (in Jharkhand) for himself.
This problem is not confined to Jehanabad alone. The Darbhanga parliamentary seat has three serious opposition contenders — Abdul Bari Siddiqui of the RJD, former cricketer and Arun Jaitley baiter, Kirti Azad of the Congress, and Sahani, who hails from here.
At Sitamarhi, Sharad Yadav wants to field former MP Arjun Rai whereas the RJD’s former minister Sitaram Yadav wants the seat for himself. The RLSP, which has the sitting MP, is keen on retaining the seat.
The fledgling alliance has also had to contend with other teething issues. When the RJD’s Raghuvansh Prasad suggested that all the parties contest under one common minimum programme and one symbol, he faced a backlash.
“How seriously should we treat Raghuvansh babu?” asked former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, who is also the HAM leader.
Manjhi was angry when he found out that he had been left out of the meeting that Lalu, currently admitted at the RIMS hospital in Ranchi, had with Kushwaha and Sahani on 29 December. He issued a warning that he should not be taken lightly and is now scheduled to meet Lalu in Ranchi on 5 January along with Sharad Yadav.
The RJD, however, is wary of Manjhi and Kushwaha. “Manjhi backstabbed Nitish Kumar — the man who made him the chief minister. Upendra till recently was stressing on the need to keep Narendra Modi as the PM even after 2019,” said a close aide of RJD chief Lalu Prasad. “What will stop them from crossing over in case of a hung Parliament?”
While its numbers may be weighing it down on seat-sharing, the opposition alliance, with the HAM, the RLSP and the VIP in its ranks, is looking at a formidable combination of castes — adding to its fold a section of Dalits and the possibility of making inroads into the Kushwaha and EBC votes.
And it could end up with more constituents. “Even criminal-turned-politicians such as Rama Singh and Ananta Singh have expressed their desire to join the alliance, which prompted (RJD leader) Tejashwi Yadav to hastily reject the criminals,” said an RJD leader. “Madhepura MP Pappu Yadav is also trying to make an entry through the Congress. His wife Ranjit Ranjan is already a sitting Congress MP from Supaul.”