Cong sews up 7-5 seat deal with JMM

Written by Political Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: Mar 20 2009, 03:53am hrs
The UPA suddenly appeared to be suffering from a major trust deficit as the Congress, smarting from the Bihar snub, on Thursday sought to pay back in the same coin by sewing up a seat-sharing arrangement with the JMM in Jharkhand without holding any consultations with its dependable ally, the RJD.

The unilateral move by the Congress and the JMM to allocate seven and five seats to themselves respectively in Jharkhand came a day after RJD supremo Lalu Prasad and LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan jointly announced a seat sharing arrangement in Bihar under which they left a paltry three seats for the Congress. The latter has said that the Bihar deal is unacceptable and has threatened to put up candidates in 11 seats in the state. The RJD on Thursday was allotted two out of the 14 seats in Jharkhand by the Congress-JMM duo.

Surprisingly, Lalu Prasad refrained from commenting on the development, but his awkward silence was interpreted as a sign of the underlying tension between the RJD and the Congress, which could either aggravate or dissipate, depending on the next steps that could be taken by either party. For the record, though, the Congress maintained that the RJD as well as the LJP were very much partners in the UPA. Party leaders also maintained that they would be fighting elections under the UPA umbrella.

We have finalised the seat sharing agreement. Congress will contest 7 and JMM 5. We have left two seats for RJD, the AICC in-charge for Jharkhand K Keshav Rao told reporters. In the last elections, Congress contested six seats, JMM four and RJD two. The agreement negates an earlier understanding under which Congress was supposed to contest only six seats while RJD was to contest three seats.

The trust deficit within allies in the UPA has once again raised questions about the cohesiveness of the alliance. The Congress, however, sought to put up a brave face and maintained that the party looked forward to form the next government in the country. In election time, these issues (seat sharing disputes) are bound to come up...We are looking forward to form the next government, AICC spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan told reporters here.

Natarajan dismissed suggestions that UPA had disintegrated after the unilateral announcement of seats by RJD and LJP in Bihar saying the UPA government is there. Asked whether Prasad and Paswan are still part of the UPA, Natarajan said, They are in the government.

Sources say the bone of contention was the Koderma seat, which both Congress and RJD wanted to contest. Former BJP leader Babu Lal Marandi had was won this seat in the last Lok Sabha elections and also retained it as an independent in a by-poll later. Hazaribagh seat was last time won by CPI, which is not the party of UPA alliance this time. Hence, JMM will be contesting this seat.