Patna: The relationship between the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has run into rough waters in Bihar, with the latest bone of contention being a Rajya Sabha seat from the state.
Five Rajya Sabha seats in Bihar will go to polls on 26 March. Of the five, three are with the JD(U) and two with the BJP but due to the assembly numbers, they will lose one seat each to the opposition.
Of the two seats, the Congress is claiming one on the grounds that the RJD had promised it during seat-sharing agreement ahead of the Lok Sabha elections last year. The RJD, on the other hand, is refusing to concede the seat.
It has prompted the Congress to hit out at its ally. “During the Lok Sabha polls, (RJD leader) Tejashwi Yadav had made the announcement (of the RS seat) at a joint press conference,” Congress leader and party’s Bihar in-charge Shaktisinh Gohil said Sunday. “There is a saying among good people that commitments are fulfilled even at the cost of life (Praan jaaye par vachan na jaaye). I hope RJD meets its commitment.”
Gohil was perceived as the man that Congress hoped to send to the Rajya Sabha but he ruled himself out saying the seat “will go to a Bihari”. Gohil is from Gujarat.
There is also anger in the state Congress unit. “The RJD should honour its commitment and give the seat to us. An additional Rajya Sabha seat for the RJD does not have much meaning,” Bihar Congress spokesperson Harku Jha told The Print. “The Congress is the main opposition in the Rajya Sabha and we would not like our numbers to slip in the House. We are seeking one seat from our allies in both Bihar and Jharkhand.”
In Congress circles, the ‘Bihari’ being talked about as a Rajya Sabha probable is former actor and former BJP MP Shatrughan Sinha — who unsuccessfully contested the Patna Saheb Lok Sabha seat on the Congress ticket. Sinha has enjoyed a cozy relationship with RJD chief Lalu Prasad despite having been in the BJP for a long time.
Congress sources, however, indicated that even a meeting between Sinha and Lalu Prasad about 10 days ago in Ranchi could not break the ice between the two allies who many believe will contest the assembly polls due later this year together.
RJD in no mood to give up seat
The RJD appears to be in no mood to concede a seat to the Congress.
State RJD chief Jagdanand Singh dismissed the Congress’ claims. “There is a difference between a political statement and an agreement. I am unaware of any agreement of this sort,” Singh told The Print. He said the RJD would contest both the seats.
“Laluji will announce the names on an appropriate date,” he added.
The RJD, with 80 MLAs in the 243-member assembly, can win both Rajya Sabha seats on the back of its own strength. The Congress with 26 MLAs is likely to draw a bank if RJD does not drop one of its candidates and transfer its support to the party.
The issue goes back to the Lok Sabha elections when the Congress reluctantly agreed to eight Parliamentary seats when it was demanding 12. It even conceded the Aurangabad seat where it had a strong candidate in former Delhi Police chief and Nagaland governor Nikhil Kumar.
The RJD had then said it would compensate by giving one seat to the Congress, claims the latter.
But the RJD, sources said, is now grappling with a number of Rajya Sabha aspirants.
They include former union minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, former MP Shivanand Tiwari, sitting Rajya Sabha MP Prem Chandra Gupta and senior leader Abdul Bari Siddiqui to name a few. Some names such as former chief minister Rabri Devi and Lalu Prasad’s eldest son Tej Pratap Yadav have also been cropping up.
“We will find it extremely difficult to accommodate a Congress candidate,” a senior RJD leader said.
Growing trouble in the alliance
It’s just not the Rajya Sabha seat that is affecting the alliance.
On 2 March, senior Congress leaders held a meeting and declared that they would recommend contesting 80 of the 243 assembly seats. While assembly polls are at least six months away, RJD leaders are surprised at the numbers being demanded.
“The Congress has no social base of its own and largely depends on the RJD vote-bank for its success. They should consider themselves lucky to whatever seats they are given,” said a former RJD MP.
In the 2015 assembly polls, the Congress was given 41 seats only after Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who was then with the Grand Alliance, intervened. RJD chief Lalu Prasad was in no mood to concede more than 25 seats. Now, Congress leaders are apprehensive that Lalu may not give them the number of seats they are demanding.
There is also resentment in the RJD over the Congress’ backing of Kanhaiya Kumar over the last two months, during which time he has held meetings against the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
Congress MLA Shakeel Ahmad Khan was seen with Kanhaiya on the same platform on several occasions. The Congress’s clarification that Khan was present in his capacity as a former JNU Student Union president and not as a Congress leader appears to have cut little ice.
“Kanhaiya is perceived as a threat to Tejashwi Yadav’s political future. That is why we did not concede the Begusarai seat in the Lok Sabha polls. Now, the Congress appears to be using Kanhaiya as a tool to arm-twist the RJD in the seat negotiations,” said a senior RJD leader.
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