The Congress hit a roadblock on Monday after one of its prospective allies in Bihar, the Ramvilas Paswan-led Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJP), threatened to join the BJP-led NDA.
This happened on a day when the Congress commenced talks with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) for an electoral understanding in the soon-to-be-created Telangana.
For the TRS, cooperation with the Congress, party sources said, will hinge on the role it plans for its leader K. Chandrashekhar Rao as well as the number of seats the party gets in case of an alliance, and what plan it has for amalgamation of its cadre if a merger is agreed to.
Currently, the beleaguered Congress has settled allies only in Maharashtra (the NCP), Jammu and Kashmir (the National Conference) and Jharkhand (the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha), but is keen on forging relationships in Bihar, Telangana, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.
It is against this backdrop that the LJP cosying up to the BJP will present yet another setback to the Congress unless it repairs its relations with that party. The problem, as with all such alliances, revolves round the sharing of seats. The LJP feels it is getting a raw deal because it is being pushed to take far fewer than the 10 seats it wants, and there is no guarantee of its getting constituencies of its choice.
Officially, the Congress’s response is sanguine. Its spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said: “The Congress is working on making the broadest spectrum of effective secular coalition within the boundaries of the philosophy that binds us.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Chandrasekhar Rao met Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. The meeting was only a thanksgiving visit, and politics was not discussed, TRS sources said.
Mr. Rao’s meeting with the top Congress leaders has come amid speculation over possible merger of his party with Congress or the forging of an alliance between the two.
He also met President Pranab Mukherjee on Monday to thank him on the Telangana issue.
Mr. Rao said that he had met the Congress vice-president to convey his appreciation for the Telangana decision.
Congress leaders from Telangana had met Ms. Sonia Gandhi following which Union Minister Sarvey Satyanarayana had said that Congress was expecting that TRS would join it.
“We are expecting TRS to join us. Mr. Rao has been saying that he would work with (Sonia) Gandhi if Telangana was created. Now that the bill has been passed, there is no reason for him to continue as a separate entity,” Mr. Satyarnarayana had said while replying to queries about the possibility of TRS merging with Congress.
Telangana is all set to become the 29th Indian state with Parliament on Thursday approving the bill to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh for the purpose.
Mr. Rao has been at the forefront of the Telangana movement for the last 10 years.
He was a TDP leader and Deputy Speaker of Andhra Pradesh Assembly till 2001, before he quit the party and launched TRS to fight for a separate Telangana state.
TRS had joined hands with Congress for the 2004 elections and Mr. Rao was appointed the Union Labour Minister in UPA-I. The sub-regional party joined the YSR Reddy-led Congress government in Andhra Pradesh, although it quit subsequently.
Sharing power at the Centre and in the state hit Mr. Rao’s credibility as the Telangana demand was not conceded by UPA-I (2004-09) despite statehood issue being part of the common minimum programme.
Mr. Rao had then joined hands with TDP and become part of a “grand alliance” against Congress for the 2009 elections. But his party suffered a serious setback and won only two Lok Sabha seats and 10 Assembly seats in the region.
Keywords: Andhra Pradesh bifurcation, TRS chief K. Chandrasekhar Rao, TRS-Congress merger, separate Telangana, Telangana Bill, separate statehood, Lok Jan Shakti Party, 2014 Lok Sabha polls, BJP, NDA, Congress alliance, UPA