No easy options for Congress in Bihar

New Delhi : Faced with no easy options in Bihar, where assembly polls are scheduled later this year, a section of the Congress is in favour of joining a possible alliance between the JD-U and RJD and another wanting to go it alone.

“There are two views in the party. One is that we should go for alliance at it would help in stopping BJP from coming to power, a primary aim of the party. The other opinion is that the party should contest all 243 seats and build its cadre. It may not yield dividends in this election but will benefit the party in the long term,” a party leader told IANS, requesting anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

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Congress leaders said a decision on this is likely once there is clarity on the merger of the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

“The present situation is of wait and watch. We are seeing how JD-U and RJD finalise their relationship,” Congress general secretary Shakeel Ahmad told IANS.

Ahmad, a former Bihar Congress president, said that the picture should be clear in about a month.

The assembly polls are expected in September-October and do not offer easy options for the Congress as it has not fared well in the state in the past few elections.

The Bihar poll will be the first after the Narendra Modi government has completed a year in office and is vital for the Congress in its efforts at revival. The results are expected to have a wider political resonance amid efforts by Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi to cast the National Democratic Alliance government as “anti-farmer” and “anti-poor”.

The JD-U and RJD were among six parties that had announced their merger into a single entity last month with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav as the president. However, the unity efforts do not appear to have made much headway since then. Senior Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav has stated that a merger was not possible before the Bihar polls.

Amid “technical problems” related to the merger, feelers from the RJD on seat sharing appear to have already caused some heartburn in the JD-U.

The claim of RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad that his party will contest 143 seats had peeved Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who last week asked the RJD to contest all the 243 seats in the state.

A Congress leader said that the party’s joining hands with the JD-U or the RJD will also depend on the number of seats it is offered.

“We will join only if offered an honourable number of seats,” the leader told IANS, without specifying the party’s minimum expectations.

Congress sources said that the JD-U and RJD were expected to contest at least 100 seats each and only 43 seats would be left to be divided among other possible constituents of an anti-NDA alliance, including the Congress, the Left parties and the NCP.

The JD-U had won 115 seats in the last assembly polls which it had fought in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP had won 91 seats as the alliance swept the state, reducing the RJD to just 22 seats and the Congress to four. However, differences over the elevation of Narendra Modi in the BJP led to the JD-U walking out of the alliance in 2013.

Sources said there is feeling in the RJD that seat-sharing talks should be held on the basis of performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and not on the basis of the 2010 assembly polls. The RJD had performed better than the JD-U in last year’s Lok Sabha elections.

A Congress functionary said that the merger between JD-U and RJD could work to the advantage of the BJP and it would be better for the the two parties to contest as allies.

“It would be better if there is no merger and JD-U and RJD contest the polls as allies. Merger at this stage will not lead to meeting of minds of workers at the grassroots and may end up helping the NDA,” the functionary told IANS, adding that the chief ministerial candidate should not be declared.

He said that while Nitish Kumar has a “good image” among the people, RJD leader and former chief minister Lalu Prasad appears to have a stronger support base.

Congress sources said that the party is also not averse to an alliance with the JD-U or RJD if the two parties do not reach an understanding.

The Congress had won four of the 243 seats it contested in the last elections and nine of the 51 seats it had contested in 2005.