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`Secular front to finalise seat-sharing in a week'

By Javed M. Ansari

NEW DELHI, FEB. 14. The Rashtriya Janata Dal today expressed confidence about the possibility of a seat-sharing arrangement among the major secular parties in Bihar.

A secular front in Bihar "is a near certainty," the RJD leader, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, told The Hindu. The seat-sharing negotiations between the RJD, the Congress, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and the Left parties were in an advanced stage and would be completed within a week. "We have already held several rounds of talks. All that remains is to tie up the loose ends. There will be no division of the secular votes this time," he said.

The RJD appears particularly buoyed by its success in getting the LJP to share a common platform with the party. The initiative to bring the two parties together was taken by the RJD president, Laloo Prasad Yadav, who first called on Mr. Paswan during the winter session of Parliament. He followed it up with another visit to his residence on Thursday where the two leaders are reported to have discussed the specifics of the seat-sharing arrangement.

During the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) swept Bihar winning 40 of the 54 seats. Mr. Paswan was a part of the NDA then and though his party won only two seats, he was instrumental in swinging the 14 per cent Dalit votes in the State in NDA's favour. With Mr. Paswan now firmly in the "secular camp" along with the Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Left, senior RJD leaders believe that the combine is now all set to "sweep" the State in the coming elections.

Senior RJD sources say that though the party will contest a majority of the seats in Bihar, it was also keen on accommodating all its allies. The RJD leadership is reported to have agreed to leave two seats for the NCP, three for the CPI(M) and the CPI and one for Devendra Prasad Yadav who recently quit the Janata Dal (United). While the talks with the Congress and the LJP are at an advanced stage, the exact number of seats from where the two parties will contest is yet to be decided.

According to RJD leaders, the party has decided to leave the Kathihar seat to the NCP general secretary, Tariq Anwar. The party is also keen on accommodating the former Bihar Chief Minister and NCP leader, Jaganath Mishra, who wants to contest from Madhubani, which was narrowly lost by the Congress in the last elections.

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