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Will Congress Contest Fewer Seats in Bihar to Keep Nitish-Lalu Happy?

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, JD-U president, and RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav have reportedly decided to contest the majority of 40 Lok sabha seats this time.
Lalu Prasad Nitish Kumar

Lalu Prasad (left) and Nitish Kumar (right). Image Courtesy: PTI

Patna: Are Congress and Left parties, two major allies of Bihar's ruling Mahagathbandhan coalition, which is part of the opposition alliance Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), ready to accept Nitish Kumar-Lalu Prasad Yadav (JD-U and RJD) formula to contest from a lesser number of seats in 2024 Lok Sabha elections in the state to defeat BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Per this formula, the main focus is winning the elections seat by seat to prevent the BJP-led NDA (National Democratic Alliance) from replicating its 2019 success in Bihar.

Amid ongoing seat-sharing talks initiated by Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge with different parties of the opposition alliance, including JD-U and RJD, it is being discussed here that Congress and Left parties would get a smaller share in seat-sharing arrangements to contest forthcoming parliamentary polls in Bihar. Going by the signs of hard bargaining by JD-U and RJD, both are likely to settle to contest more seats.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, JD-U president, and RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav have reportedly decided to contest the majority of 40 Lok sabha seats this time. As per their formula, JD-U and RJD will contest the election on 16-17 seats. The remaining seats will be divided between Congress and Left parties. Congress will get 4-6 seats, and Left parties will get 1-2 seats only.

Kumar and Yadav, both seasoned politicians who played important roles in the formation of INDIA, repeatedly stressed that INDIA's sole objective is to defeat the BJP.

Last week, a senior JD-U leader and Bihar minister, Sanjay Jha, considered close to Kumar, made it clear that the party will not contest less than 16 seats, which the party won last time. The party is not going to make any compromise on this.

JD-U, Kumar's party, contested the last Lok Sabha elections in alliance with the BJP and won 16 seats. It contested from 17 seats.

However, on Monday, a senior JD-U leader, KC Tyagi, more or less repeated the words of Jha and said in Delhi that the party would not make any compromise on seating seats and there was no need for any talk over it. Tayagi went to the extent of suggesting Congress, RJD and Left parties to talk to decide seat sharing.

In a strong political message to Congress, Tyagi said that JD-U and RJD are positioned to take on BJP in Bihar.

JD-U expressed concern over the delay in finalising seat sharing in opposition block INDIA and blamed Congress for it.

Last week, even before INDIA finalised the much-awaited seat-sharing formula, Kumar declared his party candidate for Arunachal Pradesh's parliamentary seat for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Earlier, during his party national executive meeting in Delhi, where he was elected party president after Lallan Singh resigned, Kumar announced that a senior party leader, Devesh Chander Thakur, an MLC, would be the party's candidate from the Sitamarhi parliamentary seat in Bihar.

Congress state president Akhilesh Prasad Singh said all INDIA partners must make some compromises and adjustments to face the challenge of the BJP. 

The CPI(ML) and CPI, two Left parties, claim to contest 4-5 seats each. In the last polls, CPI(ML) contested four seats, including the Ara parliamentary seat, and CPI contested the Begusarai seat. Both Left parties have a sizeable presence in their traditional strongholds in over half a dozen districts.

"Nothing has been finalised yet; all this is speculation in local media. Congress leadership is talking to leaders of allies of INDIA, including RJD and JD-U. Before every election, parties used to bargain hard for more seats to contest. It is a usual practice. Congress is eyeing to contest nine to 12 seats in Bihar; let's wait for a final number of seats, which will likely be formally decided after January 15," a senior Congress leader and party MLA told NewsClick.

According to another Congress leader, the top party leadership is pressured to contest from fewer seats in Bihar, like Uttar Pradesh, to give more seats to regional allies RJD and JD-U to ensure the defeat of the BJP-led NDA.

A political watcher here said Congress have no choice but to agree to contest from fewer seats.

"As a main opposition alliance player, Congress must deal with seat sharing to keep allies comfortable."

He said Kumar is known for bargaining hard for more seats. With the next general elections a few months away and the seat-sharing process set to finalise in the opposition alliance, Kumar has been playing his "old game" to get a decent share for his party.

In the previous Lok Sabha elections, the BJP-led NDA secured 39 out of 40 parliamentary seats, with the Congress winning only one seat and the RJD failing to secure any seats, marking a significant setback for the party.

The JD-U and RJD are key allies within the ruling Mahagathbandhan, including the Congress and three Left parties: CPI(ML), CPI(M), and CPI. This alliance wields significant political influence in Bihar compared to the BJP-led NDA.

Since August of the previous year, when Kumar broke ties with the BJP, formed the Mahagathbandhan, and assumed power, he has consistently called on all opposition parties to unite for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections to defeat the BJP.

Leadership within the BJP, including Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, is reportedly concerned about the upcoming elections in Bihar. Until a few months ago, the BJP had only one ally, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) led by Union Minister Pasupati Kumar Paras, which has no MLAs in the Assembly and is considered a weak political force.

In recent months, the BJP has formally formed alliances with three small parties, including the LJP (Lok Janshakti Party) led by Chirag Paswan, Upendra Kushwaha's RLJD (Rashtriya Lok Janshakti Dal) and Jitan Ram Manjhi's HAM (Hindustani Awam Morcha).

In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, JD-U and BJP contested an equal number of parliamentary seats (each of them contested 17 seats). The LJP of then Union minister Ramvilas Paswan had contested six seats and won 5. JD-U won 16 of the 17 seats it contested as an ally of the BJP, unlike in 2014 when it had won only 2 of the 30 seats it contested in Bihar by itself.

On the other hand, the Congress, a constituent ally of the then Mahagathbandan, won only one seat, and the other ally, RJD, failed to win any seat.

On the other hand, seat sharing is also a big problem in BJP-led NDA in Bihar. However, powerful BJP leadership is not giving any chance to allies to make a move for hard bargaining as of now. Sources in the BJP said the party will contest at least 30 to 32 of 40 seats, and the remaining will be given to allies.

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