The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Congress-JMM talks hit twin-seat stonewall

Ranchi\Jamshedpur, March 2: The likelihood of a poll alliance between the Congress and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha appears to be growing remote with both parties toughening their stand.

JMM chief Shibu Soren today ruled out any compromise on the Rajmahal and Koderma seats, now held by the Congress.

“Ground realities suggest that only the JMM can win Rajmahal and Koderma. So what if these seats were won by Congress nominees in the previous Lok Sabha elections' The area is a tribal belt and only JMM represents tribals in the region,” Soren told The Telegraph.

The Congress, too, talked tough with state chief Thomas Hansda saying “either there will be an understanding for all the 14 seats or there will be no understanding at all”. “The Congress,” he said, “can face polls without having any truck with the JMM.”

An angry Soren, while pinning his hopes on the March 6 meeting between the two parties, said: “Jeeta hua seat kya permanent ho jata hai (Does winning a seat make it a party’s fief)' The Congress should understand.”

Soren, however, parried questions on what he would do if the Congress refused to budge. “Let us hope that we are not forced to take the extreme step. All depends on the attitude of the Congress leaders during the March 6 meeting.”

The state Congress’ stand appears to have been prompted by directions from the high command.

“The two senior leaders, R.K. Dhawan and R.K. Anand, who are involved in the alliance talks with the JMM have been directed by Sonia Gandhi to make it clear to the JMM leaders that the party (Congress) would not give any of these two seats,” Hansda, also the Rajmahal MP, said in Jamshedpur.

“They (Congress) have made it a prestige issue. This is not fair,” Soren said. He went a step further and claimed “they won the two seats by jodtod (manipulation) but everybody knows that it is the JMM which has a hold in these two constituencies”.

“I hope we will find a way to avoid division of secular votes when we meet on March 6,” said Soren, who had earlier reportedly proposed “friendly contests” in Rajmahal and Koderma.

“The Congress would not enter into a friendly contest with the JMM on those two seats,” a senior Congress leader clarified today.

The Congress gameplan is to contest seven seats in the state and give one to the Rashtriya Janata Dal. Hazaribagh has been set aside for the CPI.

“This means the JMM would have to contest five seats,” a Congress source said. “But we are ready to discuss the seat-sharing issue with JMM leaders with an open mind”, though not Koderma and Rajmahal.

The Congress, insiders claimed, has become suspicious about JMM’s motives.

“We are aware of the strong rumours that the JMM and the BJP have reached a covert understanding for the Lok Sabha polls in the state,” a senior Congress leader said.

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