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Paswan stirs Cong rush for allies

New Delhi, Feb. 24: The Congress has urged secular parties to decide “what is in larger national interest”, invoking the ideological question as its attempts to sew up alliances appear to falter.

The immediate provocation was Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) leader Ram Vilas Paswan’s itch to shed the secular attire and warm up to the BJP. But the Congress seemed restless about other prospective allies too, from Telangana to Tamil Nadu to the key state of Uttar Pradesh.

“All like-minded parties should keep in mind the philosophy that binds us. We are trying to create the broadest possible spectrum and secular parties should remain united,” Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said.

Paswan’s rumoured exit from the prospective coalition in Bihar doesn’t create serious worries in terms of electoral strength — support for his party has shrunk over the years — but Congress leaders are worried it would provide Narendra Modi the legitimacy he has been desperately seeking to broaden the BJP-led NDA.

The LJP chief had severed ties with the BJP over the 2002 Gujarat riots and had since been a loud critic of Modi.

Congress sources indicated they hadn’t given up on Paswan yet but admitted the number of Lok Sabha seats he was asking for — eight to 10 — as part of a larger Bihar alliance was impossible to agree to. The sources said the alliance with Lalu Prasad’s RJD would be intact, no matter which way Paswan went.

Singhvi said he could not react to speculation on alliances, arguing that “several names you are taking are capable of understanding what is in national interest”. “We are trying but it takes two to clap.”

But Paswan isn’t the only worry. Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) leader K. Chandrashekhar Rao is driving a hard bargain. Many Congress MPs have sought an alliance with Mayawati’s BSP. In Tamil Nadu, the Congress would face a washout in the absence of a partner.

There is little time left and these questions have to be settled in the next couple of days, with Rahul Gandhi having declared the list of candidates would be out in time.

One Congress leader explained the efforts to draw Mayawati. “We are in touch with BSP leaders and most favour an alliance. They are also afraid of the hype around Modi. But Mayawati’s key aide, Satish Mishra, is opposing an understanding. We hope Mayawati sees the writing on the wall.”

The Congress has 22 MPs from Uttar Pradesh at present but predictions of a doom have struck panic among its leaders, who admit that Modi would have to be fettered in a state with 80 seats.

In Andhra Pradesh, the party faces a rout and hopes to salvage its pride in Telangana. TRS leader Rao met Rahul today and expressed his readiness “to work together”, but the modalities of the partnership could not be finalised. While the TRS is said to be ready to merge, several issues need to be sorted out.

Rao is ready to give the lion’s share of seats to the Congress in the Lok Sabha polls but in return wants help to become the chief minister of Telangana.

In Tamil Nadu, the Congress has reopened talks with the DMK but prospects of a deal look bleak. In Jammu and Kashmir, the ruling National Conference has been sending conflicting signals.

But the biggest alliance headache, with Sharad Pawar’s NCP in Maharashtra, seems to have been taken care of.