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Satraps talk, stage set for alliance test

Patna, July 29: Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad are believed to have spoken to each other in New Delhi in what is being interpreted here as the “final round” of talks between the two Bihar satraps ahead of formally announcing the alliance for the by-elections to 10 Assembly seats on August 21.

Even as a formal announcement on seat sharing is still awaited, it is an open secret now that the JDU and RJD have agreed to share four seats each while sparing two for the Congress in a determined bid to use the byelection as a platform to test the strength of the “grand secular alliance” against the resurgent BJP.

Nitish landed in New Delhi from Mumbai yesterday and drove to party president Sharad Yadav’s 7 Tughlaq Road home from where he reportedly spoke to Lalu.

An otherwise reticent chief minister, Jitan Ram Manjhi, summed up the idea behind the alliance in a relatively more succinct manner. “The by-election is a suitable ground to test the JDU-RJD-Congress alliance. If it works out well it will be extended to the Assembly elections and beyond,” he said.

Sources said that what the Bihar chief minister — dubbed as a “facilitator” of Nitish’s vision for Brand Bihar in some political circles — has stated reflects his pragmatic approach to the alliance in the making.

It is so far not known if the JDU-RJD-Congress alliance will succeed in reversing the resurgence of the BJP-led NDA, which mauled all the three parties winning 31 of the state’s 40 Lok Sabha seats.

The 10 seats where the bypolls will be held are spread over almost all demographic, political and geographical regions of the state.

Jale, Mohiuddin Nagar and Rajnagar are located in north Bihar’s Mithila region where the BJP won all the three Lok Sabha seats — Darbhanga, Madhubani and Jhanjharpur. Narkatiaganj is in the Champaran region, which Nitish had nursed as chief minister but where he failed to stop the BJP from bagging two Lok Sabha seats, East and West Champaran.

By-elections will also be held for the Assembly segments of Banka and Bhagalpur. The two seats are in southwestern Bihar where Lalu had stopped the BJP’s surge.

While the RJD’s Bulo Mandal had defeated the BJP’s only Muslim face, Shahnawaz Hussain in Bhagalpur Lok Sabha seat, the RJD’s Jaiprakash Narayan Yadav scored over the BJP’s Putul Kumari, widow of former MP Digvijay Singh, in Banka parliamentary constituency.

The outcome in Banka and Bhagalpur — a barometer of Muslim preference — will indicate if the BJP has covered ground after its defeat or whether Lalu and his RJD have gained more muscle to continue winning in the region.

On the other hand, Lalu is also believed to have got Chhapra — part of Saran Lok Sabha seat which his wife Rabri Devi lost to the BJP’s Rajiv Pratap Rudy — in his party’s share. The by-election in Chhapra — a long-standing Lalu stronghold — will also serve as a pointer to his political relevance.

The Congress is said to have got Mohania — part of the Sasaram Lok Sabha seat which former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar lost to the BJP’s Chhedi Paswan in central Bihar.

The bypoll here will test if the Congress has gained in strength in Nitish’s company — Lalu was already its ally in the Lok Sabha polls — to regain the segment that Meira won repeatedly in 2004 and 2009.

The JDU is believed to have got Hajipur — an Assembly segment of the Hajipur Lok Sabha seat that Union consumer affairs minister Ram Vilas Paswan won.

The seat has a sizeable number of Yadavs and will test if Lalu succeeds in transferring his key votes to the JDU, which has been locked against the RJD in fierce battle for 20 years.

Apart from Hajipur, the JDU is said to have got Parbatta, part of Khagaria Lok Sabha seat in Kosi region that LJP’s Mehboob Ali Kaiser had won. It is also likely to contest Narkatiaganj and Jale — all north of the Ganga. The BJP led in both segments in the Lok Sabha polls.

Tejaswi UPSC plea

Lalu Prasad’s son Tejaswi Yadav has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking his intervention to ensure that the concerns of UPSC aspirants hailing from a Hindi background are addressed without delay.