Patna: The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) lost in the 2020 Bihar assembly elections because the Congress lost, its supremo Lalu Prasad has said, indicating that the alliance terms between the parties are shaky.
In an exclusive chat with ThePrint about the increasingly distant allies, Lalu, in the presence of his son Tejashwi Yadav, said the Congress doesn’t have votes to prop up the alliance now.
“We gave 70 seats to the Congress but they lost, due to which we lost. Vote Congress ke paas hai hi nahi…” said Lalu.
The RJD chief evaded any response on the future of the alliance, “Future ka baat future mein dekha jayega (will talk about future when it comes),” he said.
The RJD-Congress alliance, which has been in place since 2000 — except for the 2009 Lok Sabha polls when the Congress fought alone — is already teetering, if two recent party decisions are any indication.
In the December 2021 assembly by-elections, the RJD refused to give Congress one of the two seats that went to polls. And in the forthcoming elections for 24 seats in the state legislative council (the electoral college consists of panchayat members), the RJD offered the Congress two seats and refused any more. The Congress is now fighting alone.
“They should not be grumbling. They should be happy. They are not happy with just two seats. Now they have all 24 seats to contest,” said Lalu, when it was pointed out that the Congress has expressed unhappiness over being ignored in the council polls.
Tejashwi, who negotiated the 70-seat deal with Congress in 2020, didn’t commit to any future plans either, but stated that the parties share aims.
“Our objectives and ideologies remain the same. We both want to remove the BJP. But the Congress must realise that regional parties must be in the driver’s seat. Whether it is Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh or Trinamool Congress in West Bengal or RJD in Bihar,” Tejashwi, the leader of the opposition in the assembly, told ThePrint.
Tejashwi’s comments came weeks after he was flown to Hyderabad by Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao to discuss an anti-BJP, anti-Congress front for the next Lok Sabha polls. At the time, Tejashwi didn’t make any commitment and stressed that Congress was RJD’s oldest ally.
RJD leaders said Tejashwi wants to keep his cards close to his chest while negotiating with the Congress.
“There is no way they can arm twist us to give away a chunk of the seats. Even in the 2015 assembly polls when we were with Nitish (Kumar), Lalu ji was not in favour of giving Congress more than 15 seats. It was Nitish ji who convinced Lalu to give Congress 41 seats,” a senior RJD leader said on the condition of anonymity, stressing that the party gave in to the Congress demands in 2020 because it was fighting the Nitish Kumar-BJP combine.
The Congress is furious over this perceived arrogance of the RJD.
“There have been misadventures in the past by RJD and they ended up losing seats,” said Congress MLA Shakeel Ahmad Khan, referring to the 2009 general elections, when Congress contested alone, and as a result, RJD candidates lost in over half-a-dozen Lok Sabha seats.
“At a time when communalism is on the rise, these regional parties are often aiding it. Elections are not just about numbers. It is also about the perception that we stand united on secularism. Any deviation means loss of seats and values,” Khan said.
Lalu to remain RJD president
In his conversation with ThePrint, Lalu also dismissed reports that he would be handing over the post of RJD national president to Tejashwi. “The news is baseless,” he said.
The RJD national executive is set to meet Thursday, to decide on a membership drive, and the elections of the national president and block and district presidents. Whenever the dates are announced, Lalu is set to become the party chief for the 12th tenure.
“He will not make the same mistake (Samajwadi Party supremo) Mulayam Singh Yadav made,” said a second RJD leader who didn’t wish to be named, referring to the former UP CM handing over the reins of the SP to son Akhilesh.
Currently, Lalu faces the possibility of another round of jail as the CBI court in Ranchi is scheduled to announce its verdict in another fodder scam case on 15 February.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)