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Seat talks half begun

Hemant Soren (top) & Sukhdeo Bhagat

Ranchi, Feb. 15: Bargaining over seats in Jharkhand for the Lok Sabha polls has kicked off, triggering a fresh round of spats between the Congress and the JMM with none willing to leave its ground.

The first round of discussions were held in Delhi last night in the backdrop of an understanding reached in July last year that left four of the 14 Lok Sabha seats for the JMM. So far, the Congress seems to have agreed in principle to set aside Dumka and Jamshedpur seats for the JMM, but rejected its claim on two other constituencies.

Apart from Dumka and Jamshedpur, the JMM also wants both Giridih and Rajmahal, but the Congress is learnt to have offered only one of the two, along with Palamau, which is currently held by JMM MP Kameswar Baitha.

Dumka is represented by JMM patriarch Shibu Soren, whereas JVM MP Ajoy Kumar won the Jamshedpur by-election in 2011.

JMM’s primary negotiators, chief minister Hemant Soren and party colleague Hazi Hussain Ansari, left for Delhi yesterday to work out a seat-sharing formula with senior Congress leader A.K. Antony, who heads the party’s alliance committee. State Congress chief Sukhdeo Bhagat and CLP leader Rajendra Prasad Singh were also present.

“They (JMM leaders) want both. Either you take Giridih or Rajmahal. Just because you are not sure about your electoral success in Palamau, you cannot pick and chose,” a senior Congress leader, who was part of the negotiation, said.

Sources explained why the JMM wanted to give up a seat it had won last time.

The JMM has apparently lost confidence in Maoist-turned politician Baitha, who is believed to be in touch with the RJD leadership.

“But the party has no credible face to replace Baitha,” said a senior JMM leader.

However, the Congress is in no mood to give away both the seats as it would upset its own calculations. In Rajmahal, the Congress is planning to field a relatively new face, Neeraj Hembrom, whereas state Youth Congress president Anup Singh is learnt to have expressed interest in contesting the Giridih seat.

But, the JMM is not willing to budge. “The Congress needs to understand that RJD has to be included in the seat-sharing deal. We are leaving Palamau for RJD. JMM has a natural claim over Giridih and Rajmahal,” said JMM spokesperson Supriyo Bhattacharya.

But the Congress rejected Bhattacharya’s contention. “The RJD will be given a seat from the Congress’s quota. It may be Chatra or Koderma,” said a Congress senior.

The Congress’ candidate screening committee is scheduled to meet in Delhi on February 17 when Jharkhand is likely to be discussed.


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