RJD still open to an alliance...it’s for Congress to decide: Lalu

Amid indications that the Congress could be exploring a pre-election arrangement with the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad on Sunday offered the Congress 12 seats to contest in the Lok Sabha elections in the State.

Seat-sharing talks between the two parties hit a hurdle on Saturday over the RJD’s refusal to concede more than 11 seats to the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

“It is my appeal to [Congress president] Sonia Gandhi to support the RJD in defeating the communal forces,” Mr. Prasad said at a press conference in Patna on Sunday. He maintained that the RJD was still open to an alliance with the Congress, but it was up to the national party to take a decision on the offer of 12 seats — 11 to the Congress and one to the NCP.

“We are not closed to an alliance, but the responsibility is with the Congress. We have not undermined anybody. We hope the Congress understands the reality. It has not reverted on the offer. We have an open mind and we are ready to discuss if there is a difficulty, but there is no point in wasting time now,” Mr. Prasad told presspersons after the RJD’s parliamentary board meeting.

The RJD’s overture came after the Congress kept its cards close to its chest even after Mr. Prasad had a telephonic conversation on Saturday night with Ms. Gandhi’s political secretary, Ahmed Patel.

With the RJD parliamentary board authorising Mr. Prasad to take any decision on alliances and seat sharing, sources said, he appeared willing to accommodate Congress national spokesman Shakeel Ahmad in any seat other than Madhubani. Mr. Prasad went back on his promise of giving Madhubani to Mr. Ahmad in a desperate bid to stave off dissension within his own party after Abdul Bari Siddiqui staked claim to the constituency.

Mr. Prasad is expected to have another telephonic conversation with Mr. Patel on Sunday night to iron out the rough spots. He may leave Sitamarhi for Mr. Ahmad. That the RJD chief is eager to strike a deal with the Congress is evident from the way he attacked Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for setting a 24-hour deadline for the Union government to announce a special package for Bihar.

Blowing hot and cold, Mr. Prasad promised to stop communal forces from coming to power at the Centre but at the same time said: “It is not my responsibility alone to stop the communal forces ... others too should be accommodating.”