The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Stung Laloo spoils for fight with ally

New Delhi, Jan. 8: Outsmarted in Jharkhand where his trusted JMM counterpart Shibu Soren made common cause with the Congress yesterday, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav has adopted a tough stand for talks on seat-sharing with Congress leaders in Bihar.

'If they (Congress) do not need us (in Jharkhand), we also do not need them (in Bihar). They have shown the way. They have created a free-for-all situation in Bihar. We have no objection,' Laloo Prasad asserted even as he sought a meeting with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.

Speaking to reporters in the capital this afternoon, the RJD leader said the Congress was free to go it alone in Bihar if it so wants, but added that the RJD should not be blamed for such a development.

Congress sources said the railway minister, whose party has been given just nine seats in Jharkhand, is upset that the Congress leadership had stumped him by winning over Soren to its side.

'He is wary of the Congress playing the Ram Vilas Paswan card for a better deal with him in Bihar,' said a source.

According to the Jharkhand deal, the JMM and the Congress agreed to put up candidates in 68 of the 81 Assembly constituencies in the state, with the JMM putting up candidates in 35, only two more than the Congress.

Laloo Prasad today directed his anger at his cabinet colleague Arjun Singh, Sonia's point-man for seat-sharing negotiations in Jharkhand and Bihar.

The RJD leader, who has had two rounds of talks with Singh, declared that he would only talk to Sonia and no other Congress leader.

Without naming Singh, he said the Congress negotiators had misled Sonia.

With the CPM and CPI, too, not happy with the Jharkhand deal, Laloo Prasad brought the two parties on board for a move to register a 'complaint' with Sonia, the chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance, that the deal amounted to weakening the coalition.

The Congress, however, did not blink. While the party iterated its commitment to fight the Bihar and Jharkhand polls with its UPA allies, working committee member and in-charge of the two states, Harikesh Bahadur, virtually ruled out a 'review' of the seat-share deal announced yesterday.

Bahadur refused to comment on Laloo Prasad daring the Congress to go it alone in Bihar. But he took advantage of Lok Janshakti Party leader Paswan's fresh offer regarding an alternative secular alliance that could also include the Janata Dal (United) to keep the RJD leader guessing.

'In politics anything is possible,' he said, asked if the Congress would consider Paswan's proposal. 'At the moment our objective is to maintain UPA unity. The JD (U) cannot be part of it as long as it remains where it is at present (the BJP-led NDA). But if the JD (U) realises its mistake, it can be a different situation. After all, much of what is JD (U) is socialist party,' he said.

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