The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Laloo sticks to seat count
- 'Friendly' fight on cards as talks fail

New Delhi, Jan. 12: The Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal looked headed for 'friendly' fights in Bihar and Jharkhand after seat-share talks broke down today.

Conveying his 'inability' to part with more than two dozen seats to the Congress ' the party has demanded 75 of the 243 Assembly seats in Bihar ' RJD boss Laloo Prasad Yadav asked Sonia Gandhi to come up with an alternative proposal.

Sonia refused to blink. Laloo Prasad called on her at her residence this morning after last night's talks with a Congress team headed by Arjun Singh remained deadlocked.

The team is believed to have rejected Laloo Prasad's argument that the Congress could not ask for more than two dozen seats as it had won only 12 in the last election and ended up second in five others.

The Congress negotiators insisted the 'ground situation' had swung in favour of the party since the last poll and urged Laloo Prasad to be 'practical' and not get stuck with the results of five years ago.

Emerging from his meeting with Sonia, Laloo Prasad said: 'I have apprised Soniaji of the ground situation and wanted a seat-sharing arrangement on a certain basis, including seats for sitting members.

'But it seems they (Congress) have their own compulsions. We have our own and a way has to be found to accommodate everyone to the maximum extent possible.'

Although there was no indication the two sides would hold further talks ' Laloo Prasad left for Patna late evening ' they are believed to be in touch informally. Laloo Prasad left room for an agreement open, putting off a decision to name his party nominees till Makar Sankranti on Friday.

After the morning talks with Laloo Prasad, Sonia invited his rival and Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan for consultations, triggering speculation that she might consider his offer of forging an alternative secular alliance.

Neither the Congress nor Paswan gave away anything after the meeting. Congress spokesperson Jayanti Natarajan merely said the Congress wanted all UPA allies to fight the Bihar polls together.

For his part, Laloo Prasad went straight to the CPM headquarters. After a meeting with CPM, CPI and Nationalist Congress Party leaders, he announced that the four parties would contest the elections together and invited the Congress to join the front. The front would announce its seat-sharing formula on Friday, he said.

Earlier, Laloo Prasad is believed to have told Sonia that if matters forced a 'friendly' contest between the two parties, he would be with the United Progressive Alliance.

The Bihar election scene has become even more hazy after Sonia's unscheduled meeting with Ram Vilas Paswan today. Sonia met the Lok Janshakti Party chief soon after her meeting with Laloo Prasad.

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