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Sheila for Kerala as governor goes to polls

New Delhi, March 4: Former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit is set to take over as governor of Kerala after the incumbent, Nikhil Kumar, quit tonight to contest the Lok Sabha election from Bihar.

Nikhil, who met Lalu Prasad in Patna today, decided to step out of the cosy confines of Kerala Raj Bhavan after the alliance between the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress showed signs of taking concrete shape.

Nikhil flew to Delhi with the news that Lalu Prasad was willing to upgrade his offer of 11 seats to 13 and voiced his desire to join the poll fray as a Congress candidate.

Lalu Prasad, who got jittery after the Congress opened a channel of communication with Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), added two more seats with two choices for Nikhil — Aurangabad and Karakat.

Kumar, a senior Congress leader, grabbed the offer and also played a role in convincing the high command to accept the deal with the RJD. He then went to Kerala to pack his bags.

Dikshit, who ruled Delhi for 15 years, had to be accommodated but did not want to jump into the poll fray at her age. So, she would have been sent to the Rajya Sabha or to a Raj Bhavan.

There was speculation of her entering the Rajya Sabha last month from Haryana but that did not happen. She will now be comfortable in the salubrious environs of Kerala.

Nikhil’s resignation is the most tangible proof of the Congress-RJD alliance coming to fruition. But the Congress is upset that the upgraded offer from Lalu Prasad includes two seats but not those it had asked for — Madhubani and East Champaran (Motihari).

While Shakeel Ahmed is a candidate from Madhubani, Akhilesh Singh wants Motihari. Without these seats, the Congress will have to make a huge compromise to accept Lalu Prasad’s offer.

But a section of the party appears reconciled to the truncated formula as negotiations with the Dal (U) too have not advanced satisfactorily. Top leaders said negotiations were still under way to further bolster the RJD’s offer.

Congress sources said the party’s choices were diminishing as the Election Commission was expected to announce the poll schedule tomorrow, which would bring the model code of conduct into force. After that, the Congress will have no option but to accept Lalu Prasad’s offer as the cabinet would not be able to concede Nitish’s demand for special status to Bihar.

The RJD chief had so far been adamant that he would go thus far and no further in striking a deal with the Congress. He had been firm on offering 11 of Bihar’s 40 seats to the Congress and one to the NCP.

The Congress, in turn, had said it wanted a bigger share and more winnable seats. Sources in the party said Rahul Gandhi was firm that an alliance with the RJD would be reached only on the Congress’s terms, and not Lalu Prasad’s.

Earlier today, Lalu Prasad told The Telegraph in Patna that he did not want the talks to fall through because of just one seat.

“I have offered 11 seats to the 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.

RJD sources said Lalu Prasad had informed Ahmed Patel, the political secretary to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, in the morning that he would go no further.

“However, by evening there was a realisation that after his conviction in the fodder scam, Laluji had become isolated. The Congress was our only hope to retain any connect with national politics. Laluji thought that a couple more seats would be worth sacrificing for this cause,” a senior RJD leader said.