The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia, Soren seal seat deal
- RJD, Left on warpath

New Delhi/ Ranchi, Jan. 7: The Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Left parties cried foul on Friday and rejected the 'seat sharing formula' for Jharkhand worked out by the JMM and the Congress as 'unacceptable'.

Accusing JMM and the Congress of playing the 'big brother', the RJD and the Left leaders wondered why they were left out of negotiations after JMM chief Shibu Soren announced in New Delhi that the JMM and the Congress had agreed to put up candidates in 68 of the 81 Assembly constituencies in the state.

The JMM will put up candidates in 35 constituencies, only two more than the Congress. According to Congress sources, of the remaining 13 seats, nine seats would go the Rashtriya Janata Dal and two to the CPI. Two more seats are kept open and indications are that they could be allocated to the RJD to accommodate four sitting legislators, who have joined that party from the ruling JD(U).

'Though the Congress might have numerically conceded a majority of seats to the JMM, we will still lead the political battle against communal forces. In that sense, the Congress is still the senior partner,' said Congress leader and Union minister Subodh Kant Sahay.

He expressed satisfaction that Soren acknowledged Sonia's overall leadership for the alliance in the Assembly polls. The announcement also caught JMM cadres by surprise. The party, which believes it is certain to wrest power in Jharkhand, was pitching for the lion's share of seats.

To their disappointment, Soren appeared to succumb to pressure and conceded far too many seats to the Congress.

Soren also shocked his supporters by announcing that Sonia Gandhi would decide on the next chief minister of the state in the event of the alliance securing a majority. Till now, his public stand was that by virtue of its long struggle for a separate state, JMM deserved the chief minister's chair and there could be no compromise on it.

The understanding is that if perchance the Congress manages to win more seats than the JMM, the latter would not come in the way of Congress projecting its own candidate as the chief minister.

The Congress appeared to have the satisfaction of not just getting the better of JMM in negotiation, but also putting the Rashtriya Janata Dal on the backfoot.

The party appears to be paying back Laloo Prasad Yadav for not conceding the Congress much ground in Bihar.

Both 'friendly contests' among UPA allies and rebel candidates spoiling the party, appeared distinct possibilities as bargaining intensified at the end of the day. RJD state chief Yogendra Baitha said the party would not settle for anything short of 25 seats.

The lone CPI member of the Lok Sabha, Bhuvaneshwar Prasad Mehta, did not hide his annoyance and said the CPI would possibly put up candidates for seven seats while CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechuri declared that he hoped to persuade the JMM to leave out a few constituencies.

'The Congress-JMM decision on seat-sharing is ridiculous. As they have taken this decision without our consent, we have rejected it outright,' fumed RJD state chief Yogendra Baitha.

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