Bihar: Mahabharat in Mahagatbandhan over seats

Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) leader Upendra Kushwaha (R) raises hands with others Congress party's Ahmed Patel and RJD's Tejashwi Yadav after joining the grand alliance during a press conference at AICC in New Delhi. (PTI Photo)

Last week, when Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) president Upendra Kushwaha joined the Mahagatbandhan, the leaders of Congress-led Grand Alliance posed for a picture of unity. The Mahagatbandhan in Bihar, which is spearheaded jointly by the RJD and the Congress, has under its umbrella the CPI, CPM, CPI-ML, RLSP, Jitan Ram Manjhi’s HAM, Sharad Yadav faction-headed Loktantrik Janata Dal (LJD) and Mukesh Sahni-led Vikashsheel Insaan Party (VIP).

In theory, their combined strength surpasses 50 per cent of the total votes in Bihar and looks like an unbeatable combination. But even before the seat-sharing talks could begin in right earnest, the allies have started extracting their pound of flesh and making unreasonable demands. This, in turn, has led to ‘Mahabharat’ within the Mahagatbandhan.

“Out of 40 constituencies, we have staked a claim on 20 Lok Sabha seats where the Dalits and Mahadalits have dominance,” said Hindustan Awam Morcha president and former Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi.

Manjhi’s unreasonable demand could be gauged from the fact that he is the sole MLA of his pocket organisation and has no member in either House of the Parliament.

Another bone of contention is Sharad Yadav’s faction, which has been seeking three Lok Sabha seats, including Madhepura for Sharad (from where he lost in 2014). The RJD and Congress leaders, aware of how marginal presence Sharad Yadav has in this part of the cow-belt, have been maintaining a stoic silence.

The Left, particularly CPI-ML, is in direct conflict with the RJD in Siwan, the stronghold of jailed former MP Mohammad Shahabuddin. The CPI-ML, which has always been at loggerheads with Shahabuddin for decades, want its nominee from Siwan while the RJD is mulling over the proposal to field Shahabuddin’s wife Heena Shahab from the RJD fiefdom.

Yet another picture of conflict is emerging from Karakat, the Lok Sabha constituency of former Union Minister Upendra Kushwaha. Kushwaha had defeated veteran RJD leader Kanti Singh (who was Union Minister in Deve Gowda-led United Front Govt as well as in UPA-1). Kanti’s supporters are asking in a hushed tone how long could one trust Kushwaha? “What is the guarantee that the man (Kushwaha), who used and abused Narendra Modi, would stay with Mahagatbandhan, and not desert the alliance, if his demands are not met,” Kanti’s aides wondered.

The CPI is also not very happy with Tejashwi’s approach of dilly-dallying for Begusarai seat - the Lok Sabha constituency it has earmarked for former JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar. The RJD wants to retain its candidate Tanveer Hasan, who was the runner-up in 2014 after losing to BJP’s Bhola Singh by around 50,000 votes.

“Individual aspirations will have to be kept aside. The only criteria for getting a ticket is winnability. Our sole purpose is to defeat NDA. So, whoever in the Mahagatbandhan is strong on any seat, he or she will be preferred,” said former Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav, who wants RJD to contest at least 20 seats in Bihar.

The Congress too agreed in toto. “Seats would be decided only on winnability factor,” said AICC in-charge of Bihar affairs, Shaktisinh Gohil, adding if needed, the Congress could make some sacrifices to adjust its new-found allies.

Mahagatbandhan players:

1.Congress

2. RJD

3. Jitan Ram Manjhi’s HAM

4. Sharad Yadav’s LJD

5. Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP

6. CPI

7. CPM

8. CPI-ML

9. Mukesh Sahni-led VIP

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Bihar: Mahabharat in Mahagatbandhan over seats

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