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Further cracks in I.N.D.I. Alliance: Congress leaders unhappy with RJD over seat sharing in Bihar, RJD upset over inclusion of Pappu Yadav in Congress

Insiders close to both the Congress and the RJD indicated that despite the former's desire for more than ten tickets, the Lalu Prasad Yadav-led party was only prepared to grant Congress five or six seats

At least three senior Congressmen have expressed dissatisfaction with Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) for unilaterally selecting candidates for four seats slated for election in the first phase on the 19th, amidst a standoff between the senior Mahagathbandhan member and the Congress over seat-sharing negotiations in Bihar, ensuing further split in the I.N.D.I. Alliance. The Congress’s decision to welcome Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav, a former party MP to the party has additionally led to resentment in the RJD.

Insiders close to both the Congress and the RJD indicated that despite the former’s desire for more than ten tickets, the Lalu Prasad Yadav-led party was only prepared to grant Congress five or six seats. Congress candidates contested in nine constituencies in 2019 while the RJD fielded its leaders in 19 constituencies. The remaining seats were given to Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP), Mukesh Sahani’s Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) and Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular).

Candidates for Aurangabad (Abhay Kushwaha), Nawada (Shravan Kushwaha), Gaya (Kumar Sarvajeet) and Jamui (Archana Ravidas) were announced by the RJD on 21st March. The All India Congress Committee (AICC) NSUI in-charge Kanhaiya Kumar, a Communist Party of India (CPI) nominee who finished second in the seat five years prior, was expected to be the candidate from Begusarai, while the Congress had been requesting Aurangabad for former MP Nikhil Kumar. Awadhesh Rai, a former MLA for the CPI, will run from Begusarai this time.

82-year-old Nikhil Kumar was among at least three prominent Congress leaders who voiced their displeasure with the RJD for “not adhering to coalition dharma.” He stated that “regional parties” would suffer greatly if the Congress and RJD’s partnership “fell apart.” The former Nagaland governor and commissioner of the Delhi Police conveyed, “Coalition dharma is being violated. Tickets are being distributed (by the RJD) without finalising seat-sharing with alliance partners.”

The constituency holds great significance for his family. The constituency was represented by his father, Satyendra Narayan Sinha, a former chief minister, from 1971 to 1984 and his late wife, Shyama Singh was the MP for Aurangabad from 1999 to 2004. He also poked fun at RJD candidate Abhay Kushwaha, calling him an “outsider” and charging the party with “not keeping the winnability factor in mind.” He added that if they are operating under the belief that they can capture more seats, they should keep in mind that RJD did not win any seats in Bihar while the Congress managed to secure one 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

He mentioned, “I hope that our state president, who is known for his excellent relations with the RJD, will ensure that the interests of the Congress are protected.” Bihar Congress president Akhilesh Prasad Singh joined the party a decade ago. He was earlier in the RJD and was also a minister in the first United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government from his quota. Akhilesh Pratap Singh, however, alleged at a press conference that he was not aware of RJD giving tickets to candidates and that the grand alliance would announce its seat sharing in a day or two.

Tariq Anwar, a former MP from Katihar also highlighted his dismay with the RJD’s “unilateral seat-sharing.” He accused, “The way RJD chief Lalu Prasad has been distributing party symbols is not a good sign for the alliance. This is against coalition ethics. This is not the way our alliance should function,” before the media on 21st March.

Anil Sharma, a former president of the Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee (BPCC), has also criticized the RJD leader for the “unilateral seat-sharing decision” for constituencies in the first round. He had already taken issue with Akhilesh Prasad Singh, the current head of the BPCC, inviting Lalu Prasad Yadav to the Congress office in the state in Patna.

The handing over of the Begusarai seat to CPI is reportedly another RJD decision that irked the Congress. Awadhesh Rai has declared his candidacy for the position, according to CPI General Secretary D Raja, who recently met with Lalu Prasad Yadav and Leader of the Opposition Tejashwi Prasad Yadav. RJD national spokesperson Subodh Kumar Mehta informed, “We have allotted party symbols to only those seats that we have been contesting traditionally. As for Aurangabad, it was Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) in 2019. The top leaders of the alliance have been discussing seat-sharing and we will soon announce it.”

The RJD, on the other hand, is not happy with the Congress for welcoming Pappu Yadav into its fold, according to a senior leader of the grand old party in the state. Pappu Yadav, a five-time member of parliament, unified his Jan Adhikar Party (JAP) with Congress on 20th March. He is recognized for possessing power in the Seemanchal and Kosi areas of Bihar and is the spouse of Congress Rajya Sabha MP Ranjeet Ranjan. He was sacked by the RJD in 2015 for persistently criticizing Lalu Prasad Yadav about the party’s succession issue.

Notably, Aam Aadmi Party Punjab and Trinamool Congress have already decided to go solo in the 2024 Lok Sabha election. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar returned to the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance. Tensions between Congress and its coalition partners including Samajwadi Party and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) regularly make headlines in the media.

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