Patna: Starting Thursday, candidates can file nominations for 71 seats that will go to the polls in the first phase of the Bihar assembly elections on 28 October. But the two main alliances contesting the elections — the Grand Alliance (mahagathbandhan) and the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) — are yet to finalise their seat-sharing formulas.
The elections are scheduled to be held in three phases — 71 seats on 28 October, 94 seats on 3 November, and 78 seats on 7 November, with the results to be declared on 10 November. The last dates for filing nominations are 8, 16 and 20 October for the three phases respectively.
On the Grand Alliance front, the Rashtriya Janata Dal has offered the Congress 60 of the state’s 243 seats, and is balking at increasing the number any further. The alliance already faced a setback when its largest Leftist constituent, CPI-ML, walked out of talks and announced 30 candidates of its own.
Congress leaders say the party’s interim president Sonia Gandhi is likely to take the final call on the number of seats by the end of the day. “Things should crystallise by Thursday night,” Bihar Congress chief Madan Mohan Jha told ThePrint.
Meanwhile, in the NDA, Lok Janshakti Party chief Chirag Paswan has not given any commitment that he will go along with Chief Minister and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar, despite the intervention of Union Home Minister and former BJP president Amit Shah.
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The Congress issue
In the 2015 assembly polls, when Nitish’s JD(U) was allied to Lalu Prasad’s RJD and the Congress, the national party was given 41 seats to contest at the behest of the CM, though Lalu was not willing to give it more than 25. Now, with Nitish out of the equation, the Congress wants to contest at least 75 seats.
There is anger in the Congress that even among the 60 seats offered to it, there are many “dead seats”.
“We are being given seats in Nalanda and Patna where even RJD cannot win, because they are strongholds of JD(U) and BJP. The actual winnable seats are small in number,” said a senior Congress leader who was unwilling to be identified.
A number of Congress leaders want the party to go it alone, “but in the end, the RJD will have its way”, the senior leader predicted.
The RJD, meanwhile, wants to contest 160 seats. “The Congress must realise that RJD is the major stakeholder in the Grand Alliance. If we have to defeat NDA, it must accept the leadership of Tejashwi Yadav and contest the number of seats we are giving. We have also offered the Valmiki Nagar Lok Sabha seat where a bypoll is scheduled,” RJD spokesperson Mrityunjay Tiwari told ThePrint.
Congress leaders say they are missing Lalu, who is in jail in Ranchi for his part in the fodder scam.
“Even though Lalu is talking to Congress leaders on the phone, the face is Tejashwi Yadav. There is a limitation to what Tejashwi can concede. Lalu has a grip over ground realities and would concede to the demands which he thinks are legitimate,” said a senior Congress MLA on the condition of anonymity, stressing that it almost looked as if Tejashwi was fighting not to win but to retain the leader of the opposition post in the assembly.
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CPI-ML’s walk out
The RJD had sought to bring on board all Left parties to defeat the NDA. But after several rounds of talks with RJD state president Jagadanand Singh, the largest Left party, the CPI-ML, walked out of the alliance and issued its first list of 30 candidates.
“We were asking for 30 seats and even scaled down our demand to 20. But the RJD was not willing to give us seats in districts where we have a strong party network, like Patna, Aurangabad, Jehanabad and Buxar,” CPI-ML politburo member Dhirendra Jha told ThePrint.
“It is unfortunate that the fight against NDA could not be fought unitedly. But the RJD is to blame for it,” he added.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the RJD had left the Arrah seat for the CPI-ML. But this time around, there are about 23 seats in which the RJD has to adjust with the CPI, the CPI(M) and Mukesh Sahani’s Vikassheel Insaan Party. And all of them are grumbling.
NDA’s Chirag Paswan problem
On the NDA front, Nitish Kumar and LJP president Chirag Paswan have been at loggerheads for the last three months, in which Chirag, despite being an ally, has been more vocal about criticising governance in Bihar than even opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav. The JD(U) has made a statement that it does not consider the LJP an ally, and the BJP is having a tough time convincing Paswan, son of Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, to remain on board.
The LJP has been threatening to contest 143 seats, fielding candidates against the JD(U) and another ally, former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi’s HAM. BJP’s national general secretary Bhupender Yadav Wednesday expressed confidence that the LJP would remain with the NDA, and revealed that former Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis, the man in-charge of the Bihar elections for the BJP, would hold talks with both Nitish and Chirag Paswan.
Yadav’s statement came after Paswan’s talks with Amit Shah. But immediately after that, the LJP released a video clip of Paswan addressing his supporters, asking them to be prepared for every possibility.
“The party is bigger than any individual. We will not let anyone try to downsize our party,” he declared.
The LJP is currently being offered 20 seats, but it wants 42 — the number it contested as an ally of the BJP in 2015 against the JD(U)-RJD-Congress mahagathbandhan.
“There is tremendous pressure on him by party workers and leaders to contest 143 seats. But we will abide by Chirag Paswan’s decision,” said Paswan’s close confidant and LJP’s spokesperson Ashraf Ansari.
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