The Telegraph
Saturday , March 1 , 2014
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Two seats in way of Cong-Lalu pact

New Delhi, Feb. 28: If the jolt to the Congress from Ram Vilas Paswan was not bad enough, Lalu Prasad too has toughened his stance on an alliance, almost shattering the dream of a formidable force to stop the Narendra Modi juggernaut in Bihar.

What is worse, Telangana, the only silver lining in the dark clouds for the Congress where the party had hoped to sweep all 17 seats, has thrown up unforeseen problems. The friendly TRS, which was even ready for a merger, is furious after the Congress embraced two party rebels, MP Vijaya Shanthi and MLA Arvind Reddy, yesterday.

Although Congress leaders are hoping both crises would be resolved, it is not going to be easy at a time the party’s stock is falling every day.

While the Congress is upbeat in Telangana and willing to fight it out with the TRS if the alliance does not happen, Bihar will be a washout and a boon for the BJP. Party leaders admit the BJP could corner the bulk of the 40 seats if there is a four- or five-cornered contest.

Sources said although Lalu Prasad had agreed to set aside 14 seats for the Congress after Paswan’s exit, two seats have become the bone of contention — Madhubani and East Champaran (earlier Motihari).

RJD sources said yielding further ground was difficult for Lalu Prasad because the recent rebellion in his party was linked to choice of seats for the Lok Sabha election.

While the Congress has a strong claim on Madhubani as party general secretary Shakeel Ahmed contests from there, RJD veteran Abdul Bari Siddiqui is not willing to withdraw.

Siddiqui contested from Madhubani in 2009 and came second, polling more votes than Ahmed. The BJP candidate, Hukumdeo Narain Yadav, won because the secular votes split between the RJD and the Congress.

But Ahmed has a stronger claim because he has won the seat twice, in 1998 and 2004. Siddiqui is an MLA whose claim Lalu Prasad is not in a position to ignore because he helped control the rebellion.

In Motihari, the Congress has to accommodate senior leader Akhilesh Singh who had crossed over from the RJD.

Sources said Sonia Gandhi would have to intervene sooner than later to resolve the crisis if the alliance with the RJD is to be saved. In 2009, when there was no alliance, the party had won three seats and this time the predictions are worse if it goes alone.