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Lalu softens in seat tussle with Cong

- RJD chief ready to sacrifice at least one more winnable constituency in Bihar for alliance sake

Patna, March 4: Lalu Prasad today appeared to be blinking first in the seat standoff with the Congress amid strong indications that negotiations had been reopened to find a middle path.

The RJD chief had so far maintained an adamant public posture of going thus far and no further in striking a deal with the Congress. He has been firm on offering 11 of Bihar’s 40 seats to the Congress and one to the NCP. The Congress in turn has held its ground, saying it wants a greater share and more winnable seats.

Sources in the party said that Rahul Gandhi, considered a tough negotiator, was adamant that an alliance with the RJD would only be reached on the Congress’s terms, and not Lalu’s.

Lalu today told The Telegraph he didn’t want the talks to fall through because of just one seat.

“I have offered 11 seats to Congress and one to the NCP. Talks are on and I will not break the alliance for just one seat. If needed, I will give them one more seat,” the RJD chief said.

Informed sources said the Congress could be given two more seats, including Bettiah in West Champaran. Besides, a couple of seats already allotted may be interchanged. For example, Jamui had been given to the Congress but now that state party chief Ashok Choudhary has been advised not to contest, it may be swapped for either Samastipur or Gaya.

RJD sources, who didn’t want to speak on record as they were not authorised to do so, said that initially in the morning today, Lalu had informed Ahmed Patel, the political secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, that he would go no further.

“However, by evening there was a growing realisation that after his conviction in the fodder scam, Laluji had become isolated. The Left, which had initially considered him a natural ally, has virtually walked over to Nitish Kumar. The CPI has been given two seats by the JD(U). At the national level, nobody approached Lalu when they held talks on the formation of the Third Front, not even Mulayam Singh Yadav. The only ally we had, Ram Vilas Paswan, walked over to the BJP. The Congress was our only hope to have a connect with national politics. Laluji thought that a couple of more seats would be worth sacrificing for this cause,” a senior RJD leader said.

He added that by evening, Lalu was in “direct talks” with C.P. Joshi, who handles Bihar for the Congress.

RJD sources said the hard bargaining has left a bitter taste in Lalu’s mouth.

“He was saying that seats such as Nawada, Bhagalpur and Jhanjharpur, which had been nurtured by us, were being demanded by the Congress. He had already committed Nawada to Raj Ballabh Yadav of his own party. Laluji said the Congress would not be able to win even two seats without the alliance,” said the RJD source.

Congress sources admitted that the party too needed an alliance.

A source pointed out that following Nitish’s snub to the Congress, the national party faced isolation in Bihar.

Congress leaders said Joshi spoke to possible candidates for the seats allotted to the party and asked them if they were willing to contest without an alliance. “Several of them backed out,” said a Congress leader.