Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI: The Congress on Tuesday described the seat-sharing arrangement for Bihar proposed jointly by allies, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJP) as “unacceptable” but maintained that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was still intact.

Briefing mediapersons after a joint press conference of the RJD and the LJP, Union Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde — who was entrusted with arriving at a seat-sharing arrangement in Bihar — said: “The Congress will contest as many seats as possible. Our workers are so angry that they have threatened to leave the party if we accept what has been offered to us by the two parties.”

Though in the morning he indicated that the party was prepared to field candidates in as many as 11 constituencies, Mr. Shinde refused to give any number later in the evening when asked how many seats the Congress planned to contest.

Sitting with disgruntled RJD leaders — including president Lalu Prasad’s brother-in-law Sadhu Yadav, Jai Narain ‘Nishad’ and Ramai Ram — who have expressed a desire to join the Congress, the Minister said he would communicate their offer to the party’s central leadership. He denied that his party was trying to orchestrate desertions from an ally. “They have come to us on their own.”

Another visitor at Mr. Shinde’s residence was convicted LJP member of the Lok Sabha, Rajesh Ranjan (alias Pappu Yadav), who is currently on bail. However, he did not put in an appearance at the press briefing addressed by Mr. Shinde and RJD leaders.

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) general secretary Tariq Anwar also came calling. Mr. Anwar has been hit by the announcement as he was hoping to contest from Katihar, which has now been given to the LJP.

Asked if it was all over between the Congress and the RJD-LJP, Mr. Shinde first said “that I can’t say at this moment” but ruled out the possibility of the Congress trying to reach out to the two Bihar-based parties. To a direct question whether he would reach out to Mr. Prasad and LJP president Ram Vilas Paswan, he said: “I don’t think so.”

The Congress this time had started talks by asking for nine seats and had come down to six as against the four it had contested in alliance with the RJD, the LJP, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the NCP in 2004. The last Mr. Shinde spoke to either party leadership was two days ago though it is learnt that both Mr. Paswan and Mr. Prasad were in touch with Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel as late as the early hours of Tuesday. But, officially, the Congress maintained that it had no inkling of the announcement till it was made.

Corrections and Clarifications

The fifth paragraph of a report "Congress rejects Bihar seat-sharing accord"(March 18, 2009) said that Rajesh Ranjan is the convicted LJP member of theLok Sabha. Rajesh Ranjan (Pappu Yadav) is the RJD sitting Lok Sabha memberfrom Madhepura.

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