The Congress in Bihar has decided to contest on not more than eight seats in the 2019 general election, a drop from the 12 seats it contested in 2014, sources told The Sunday Guardian. Congress won two seats from Bihar in 2014. The sources said the “sacrifice” is aimed at creating space for possible future allies such as Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP and Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party, two visibly upset NDA partners, the RJD-Congress hopes can be weaned away to engineer an anti-BJP axis in the state.
The sources from Bihar Congress, who had attended the meeting chaired by Rahul Gandhi on Monday, 18 June, in New Delhi, told this reporter that the party president informed them about the reduced number of seat-share—a decision apparently arrived at after deliberations with the RJD—and asked them to “prevent any attempt of defection or factionalism”.
“We (Congress) will not be contesting on more than eight or nine seats in next year’s general election in Bihar. Our seat-share will be less than 10, that is for sure. Rahul Gandhi explained to us that the sacrifice should be seen as a tactical retreat in keeping with his decision to play the junior ally in states where the Congress is not strong. The larger goal is to cement Opposition unity and put up consensus candidates against the BJP,” a reliable source from the Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee told this reporter.
When asked about the progress made in alliance talks with the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party and LJP, the source said that the Congress’ decision to not claim a chunk of the seats it had contested in 2014 reflects “the talks are in the final stage”.
“Paswan’s sitting MPs are mostly from the minority dominated constituencies. It would suit him to be a part of the ‘secular front’. The BJP’s losses in bypolls in the state have also dissuaded him from continuing in the NDA. In any case, Paswan and Kushwaha are sceptical that they would get a decent deal from the NDA,” another source from the BPCC informed.
The NDA in Bihar has got into a fix regarding seat sharing, after Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal United, which returned to the BJP led fold last year, made public its wish to contest on 25 of the state’s 40 Lok Sabha seats. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, seat sharing was a swift exercise for the NDA with BJP fighting on 29 seats, LJP on seven and RLSP on four.
It is hard to imagine that any one of these three parties would be willing to contest on a fewer number of seats than what they currently represent—BJP has 22 MPs, LJP has six and RLSP three. This leaves only nine seats for the JDU at a time it is preparing, rather overtly, to reprise its role of the senior partner within the NDA. There is speculation that the BJP might ask Paswan to make major concessions to placate the JDU. Sources in the Congress said that they along with RJD feel that there is a perfect opportunity to wean away Paswan and Kushwaha.
“If we offer even a couple of seats more to them than what the NDA offers, they would not think twice before deserting the NDA,” a Congress source said. This reporter had earlier written that Congress and RJD were eyeing LJP, RLSP and had even opened lines of communication with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar (RJD-Congress have sent emissaries to Nitish, 26 May).
The sources further revealed that Rahul Gandhi has assured the Bihar delegation that a new Bihar Congress chief would be appointed soon. Akhilesh Singh, Awadesh Singh, Ashok Ram and Madan Mohan Jha are said to be the top contenders for the post. A source said, “If Bihar Congress in-charge Shaktisinh Gohil plays the Rajput card, Awadesh Singh may get the prized possession.”