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Cong agrees to Lalu’s 12

Patna, March 5: Left with little option, the Congress today agreed to Lalu Prasad’s offer of 12 seats and struck an alliance with the RJD for the Lok Sabha elections that begin next month.

The talks, which had see-sawed over the number and quality of seats to be given to the Congress, received a boost yesterday with Lalu agreeing to part with one extra constituency to the Congress over and above his initial offer of 11 to the party and one to the NCP.

Lalu’s final offer to the Congress was 12 seats: Sasaram, Kishanganj, Aurangabad, Supaul, Hajipur, Purnea, Patna Sahib, Nalanda, Samastipur, Valmiki Nagar, Gopalganj and Muzaffarpur. Katihar has been left to the NCP’s Tariq Anwar.

The Congress, reduced to a cipher in Bihar, was left with little choice. It had sounded out the JD(U), but found its doors firmly shut with Nitish Kumar railing about the Centre’s snub to Bihar on special category status.

The announcement of the alliance was a low-key affair, unlike the BJP-LJP show to declare the deal with Ram Vilas Paswan a few days ago. Away from the flash bulbs of New Delhi, the news meet was held in Patna with Lalu sharing the stage with Bihar Congress chief Ashok Choudhary.

In Delhi, the Congress said it was happy with the deal. “We have a very good rapport with RJD chief Lalu Prasad. He has been extremely supportive of the Congress inside Parliament and outside,” party spokesperson Sanjay Jha said.

A weary Lalu appeared relieved after sealing the deal. “We have come together to fight communal forces,” the RJD chief said and profusely thanked Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.

Lalu has reasons to be happy. The threat of fighting an election in isolation, now that the LJP has joined the BJP, is over. “We will have the face to say that a vote for us means that it is going to have an impact on national politics,” said a senior RJD leader.

The talks with the Congress had reached a breaking point with the party demanding 16 seats. “We have been able to keep safe seats such as Madhubani, Nawada, Jhanjharpur, Bhagalpur and Purvi Champaran,” said an RJD source, declaring that the Congress was adamant on these.

The alliance has left in the lurch several Congress leaders such as AICC general secretary Shakeel Ahmad, who wanted Madhubani, and former Speaker Sadanand Singh. “Not all leaders can fight elections. It is the party which matters more,” state party chief Choudhary said by way of explanation.

But Congress leaders point out that Lalu has given them “unwinnable” seats like Nalanda, Hajipur and Patna Sahib.

Congress strategists feel the party could still make a fight of it and improve on its tally of two in the present Lok Sabha if “the alliance clicks”. “It remains to be seen if Lalu can transfer Yadav votes to Congress candidates. He is no longer the leader whose diktat is law for his caste people,” said a senior Congress leader, pointing to the perception that Yadavs may vote for Narendra Modi in seats where there are no RJD candidates.

Lalu, RJD insiders said, was keen on the deal because of the perception that Muslims would be more inclined towards the alliance than to the JD(U). But that perception is still to be tested at the ground level, said the senior RJD leader, who spoke under cover of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak.