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Tempered alliance of trio

Patna, July 30: The JDU, RJD and Congress today struck what they described as a “grand secular alliance” against the BJP-led NDA for next month’s by-elections to 10 Assembly seats.

The parties, however, sent out a clear signal that the byelections would serve as a testing ground for the alliance. JDU and RJD workers are still not sure how to react to the alliance given their bitter rivalry for two decades.

The bosses of the three parties — Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad and Sonia Gandhi — stayed in the background and instead assigned their respective state party chiefs to make a formal announcement of the alliance at a joint news conference here.

“It is just the beginning of social democratic forces uniting against the Sangh parivar. Bihar has shown the way. The process will be strengthened in the state and extended in the rest of the country with the larger goal to present a viable secular alternative to communal forces,” Bihar JDU chief Bashishtha Narayan Singh said.

His RJD and Congress counterparts, Ramchandra Purbey and Ashok Choudhary, described the alliance as the “need of the hour”.

Though the leaders parried questions related to the absence of their leaders, particularly Lalu and Nitish, sources said the two Bihar satraps stayed away from the news meet for “strategic reasons”.

“It is a by-election for just 10 seats. They (Lalu and Nitish) wish to use the by-election to test the success of their experiment at the ground level. They will share the dais once they find the cadres and voters responding to their move,” a senior leader said.

As expected, the RJD and JDU shared four seats each, sparing two for the Congress. Chhapra, Rajnagar, Mohiuddin Nagar and Banka have gone to the RJD’s kitty. The JDU will field candidates in Parbatta, Jale, Hajipur and Mohania. Bhagalpur and Narkatiaganj have been given to the Congress.

Sources said Nitish wanted Narkatiaganj in north Bihar’s West Champaran district and was ready to leave the central Bihar seat of Mohania for the Congress. But the Congress leadership insisted on Narkatiaganj, where its candidate finished second in the 2010 Assembly elections.

The candidates are yet to be announced. Sources said the Congress was toying with the names of Ajit Sharma and Fakruddin for Narkatiaganj and Bhagalpur respectively. Sharma had unsuccessfully contested the last elections from Bhagalpur while Fakruddin has crossed over to the party from the JDU.

The RJD is likely to field Randhir Singh, son of its former Maharajganj MP Prabhunath Singh, from Chhapra, former MLA Ajay Kumar Bulganin from Rajnagar, party activists Iqbal Hussein Ansari from Banka and Ram Awatar Paswan from Mohiuddin Nagar.

The JDU front-runners are Chandra Shekhar Prasad (the nephew of BJP MP from Sasaram Chhedi Paswan) from Mohania, Rishi Mishra, son of party MLC Vijay Kumar Mishra, from Jale, former minister Ramanand Singh from Parbatta and party MLC Rajendra Rai from Hajipur.

The fragile nature of the alliance was exposed when RJD and JDU cadres from Hajipur stormed into the news meet to protest against what they alleged was the “sell-out” of the Hajipur ticket. “The candidate should have been picked from among the cadres,” said RJD activist Harinarayan Rai.