Congress did not take me seriously: Paswan

By Rashmi Saksena, IANS,

New Delhi : Forty eight hours after his Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad cocked a snook at their United Progressive Alliance (UPA) partner Congress by unilaterally announcing a seat-sharing formula for Bihar, LJP supremo Ram Vilas Paswan asserted he had warned the Congress not to ignore him but the “Congress did not take me seriously”.

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In an exclusive interview to IANS, Paswan revealed he had decided to be “upfront” and “aggressive” with senior Congress leaders at his first contact with them on the margins of a cabinet meeting Wednesday after they accused him of “betrayal” following the Paswan-Laloo deal.

Expressing his bitterness that the Congress preferred to first discuss the seat sharing arrangement with Lalu Yadav and ignored him, Paswan said he asked the Congress: “Why did you not talk to me?”

He said this to senior congress leader S.K. Shinde and S. Jaipal Reddy as they gathered for the cabinet meeting. The Congress has been smarting ever since its two key alliance partners decided the seats between themselves leaving it out in the cold.

Paswan and Lalu Prasad went ahead and announced the formula Tuesday leaving only three seats to the Congress. According to the formula, the RJD would contest 25 seats, LJP 12 and the Congress three. Bihar has in all 40 Lok Sabha seats.

“The Congress should have come to the negotiating table as I had repeatedly requested. If it had, things would have worked out and there would have been no room for pique”.

However, Paswan now claims that the air between them has “now been cleared and the seat sharing arrangement has not affected my relationship with the Congress. The LJP is with the UPA and the UPA will form the government”.

But he was insistent that things would have panned out differently if the Congress had started three-cornered talks for the Bihar seats.

“I think the Congress did not take me seriously and ignored my request for tripartite talks across the table. It wanted to deal with Lalu on its own and not include the LJP,” said Paswan.

Paswan informed that he had met Congress president and UPA chairman Sonia Gandhi Jan 14 and suggested that the UPA partners should together work out seat division in Bihar. She reportedly said she would revert to him after talking to Lalu.

“At her request, I was in touch with Ahmed Patel (Gandhi’s political adviser) as well as Shinde. He (Shinde) asked me for my list of seats which I gave”.

According to Paswan, he was told that the Congress would revert to him after confabulations with Lalu. “Even when I informed him that only three seats were going to be left to the Congress, they said they were negotiating with the RJD boss”.

He said this was before the announcement of his pact with Lalu Yadav.

Paswan decided to “clinch the deal (with Lalu) when I was offered 12 seats against my demand for 16”.

The LJP chief, however, is confident that the “perceived” dip in the relationship between him and the Congress will not work to the disadvantage of the UPA in Bihar. The Dalit, Muslim and Yadav formula will work and “whatever has happened will only cut into he NDA votes. The UPA will form the next government with Dr Manmohan Singh as the prime minister,” he insisted.

Paswan, who has often said that he is the man if a Dalit had to be the prime minister, said: “Anyone who does not have this ambition should not be in politics.”

However, he clarified he said it only in the context of the Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati projecting herself as the Dalit candidate for the top post.

“The prime minister should be from the single largest party. If not so, then a consensus candidate should be made the PM. I am the Dalit front consensus candidate for the top job,” declared Paswan.