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Congress to contest 37 seats in Bihar

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Rebel RJD leader Sadhu Yadav, who joined the Congress, addresses journalists after meeting Congress president Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi on Saturday.
Rebel RJD leader Sadhu Yadav, who joined the Congress, addresses journalists after meeting Congress president Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi on Saturday.

Anita Joshua

Sonia will realise her mistake after polls: Lalu

NEW DELHI: The gloves were off on Saturday as the Congress announced its decision to contest 37 seats in Bihar, leaving two constituencies from where Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) president Lalu Prasad will contest and one for Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJP) chief Ram Vilas Paswan.

This announcement drew a quick response from Mr. Prasad. “[Congress president] Sonia Gandhi will realise her mistake after the polls. She will then understand the RJD’s importance.”

He made it clear that there would be no rethink on the seat-sharing arrangement announced by him along with Mr. Paswan on Tuesday as per which the RJD would contest 25 seats, the LJP 12 and the Congress three.

Even as the Congress and the RJD stepped up their verbal duel of the past four days, blaming each other for the ties reaching a breakpoint, both maintained that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was intact. But clearly the dominant mood within the two camps was against attempting a salvage operation, though Mr. Prasad said his party would not attack the Congress during the campaign in Bihar.

The Congress refrain is that it was Mr. Prasad and Mr. Paswan who brought matters to a head by bilaterally announcing the seat-sharing arrangement. “This is a humiliating arrangement as far as the Congress is concerned. How can we accept it,” was the response from the Congress headquarters that is still smarting under the RJD-LJP combine turning the tables on the party.

Senior Congress leaders maintained that the party was not against pre-poll alliances, but they should be worked out in the spirit of accommodation. With its alliance in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar — particularly, the latter given that Mr. Prasad has been one of the staunchest allies of the Congress — a shambles, there is now apparently a conflict between advocates of the two schools of thought in the ‘grand old party’: The Panchmarhi go-it-alone line and the 2003 Shimla resolution calling for pre-poll alliances.

And, overnight, the Congress is once again speaking out against pre-poll alliances — describing its decision to ally with the Bahujan Samaj Party for the 1996 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections as its biggest mistake and maintaining that the mood was changing in the Hindi heartland in favour of the party. This claim was dismissed by Mr. Prasad who maintained that the Congress had no base left in Bihar and the three seats allotted to it was in keeping with the ground realities.

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