Fernandes meets PM on JD(U)-BJP seat-sharing

NEW DELHI, MARCH 3. The persisting differences between the Janata Dal (United) and the BJP, both National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners, on seat-sharing prompted the NDA convener and JD(U) president, George Fernandes, to meet the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpyee, today to sort out the issue.

The JD(U) leaders are upset that the BJPis not carrying the NDA partners along with it. Many allies left the BJP during the last one year, including the DMK, the PMK, the MDMK, the Indian National Lok Dal and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (outside support). The Lok Jan Shakti and the National Conference had quit after the Gujarat riots.

Today's meeting between Mr. Fernandes and Mr. Vajpayee was prompted by the failure of the first round of talks on seat-sharing in Bihar and Jharkhand, where the two parties had an understanding on 40 seats (undivided Bihar) in the last general elections in 1999. This time, the BJP leadership in Bihar wanted the JD(U) to give up its claim on the seats held by that party's MPs who have quit the party and joined either the RJD or the BJP.

The JD(U) considers Bihar its stronghold and all of its main leaders, including Mr. Fernandes, the Parliamentary Board Chief, Sharad Yadav, and the Railways Minister, Nitish Kumar, were members of the 13th Lok Sabha. Sources said there was no question of giving up any of the 25 seats from which the JD(U) had contested. It had won 20 before defections occurred, leaving it with 14 now.

Though senior leaders are sorting out matters among themselves, the cadre feels that if matters worsened the party might go it alone in Bihar.

Another reason for the simmering tension is the feeling that the BJP is poaching on the JD (U). Initially, the JD(U) leadership was holding talks with S. Bangarappa, Maneka Gandhi, Nagmani, Sukhdev Paswan, and even Ram Vilas Paswan of the Lok Jan Shakti. But these leaders were weaned away by the BJP leadership to join their party, sources alleged. Mr. Bangarappa is likely to join the BJP.