The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shield for Cong in battle of allies

Patna, Jan. 13: The call is to defeat the 'communal forces', the race is to determine who can appease the Congress more and the bottomline is to keep the United Progressive Alliance 'intact' in the election fever that is fast gripping Bihar.

Round one has gone to Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party, which clearly indicated today that, unlike the Rashtriya Janata Dal of Laloo Prasad Yadav, it would not field any candidate in a constituency that the Congress contests.

The 'fast-changing scenario' has delayed the LJP's first list of candidates for the first phase that would see 64 seats going to the polls on February 3. 'We expect to declare it tomorrow. But it may get further delayed in case the Congress has anything new to say,' a top LJP leader said.

Paswan, already authorised by his party leaders to finalise the nominees, continued to hold a marathon meeting to finalise the list.

'We do not believe in having friendly contests. It is definite that defeating the RJD is our first priority. Since we are part of the United Progressive Alliance, it is only natural that we accommodate the claims of the Congress to the maximum,' the LJP leader said.

The RJD has been pushing the theory of 'friendly contests' because the Congress wants to field a sizeable number of candidates ' almost 80, if party sources are to be believed ' and Laloo Prasad cannot concede this since he wants to run for a majority in the 243-member House.

However, the RJD, sources said, was ready not to field its candidates in constituencies where the Congress has a 'good chance' of winning. 'The number of such seats could run up to 30. We can do no more because we also have to take into account the claims of the CPI, CPM and the NCP with whom we already have an alliance,' the RJD source said.

But a state CPI leader said its alliance with the RJD ' the number of seats to be exact ' was not yet finalised. 'Our options are open and we will weigh what Laloo Prasad has to offer to us,' he added.

Paswan said Muslims and Dalits had come to be the most 'militant' supporters of his party and they want to vent their anger against the RJD.

'We will field a good number of Muslims. We will also give sufficient representation to women. Every seat is oversubscribed and we have to take tough decisions in selecting our candidates,' he added.

Laloo Prasad, meanwhile, belittled Paswan and described the LJP, along with the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party, as 'vote-katwas' (those who eat into votes without winning).

'We have made Bihar a fortress of social justice and secularism. Let there be no confusion that we will again win. These small-time vote-katwas offer no contest to us. I have assured Sonia Gandhi that we will walk together,' he said.

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