In a major breakthrough that may further thaw the chill in their alliance, Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United) and Lalu Prasad Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal have completed the first round of seat-sharing talks for the Bihar assembly elections and conveyed the initial formula to the Congress leadership in Delhi.

As per the formula, which is likely to undergo some last-minute changes, the JD(U) and the RJD will contest 105 seats each, said a senior JD(U) leader considered close to Nitish Kumar. The Congress will get 30 seats and the Nationalist Congress Party the remaining three seats.

Congress leaders confirmed that the party high command has received an offer of 30 seats from its two Bihar allies. Following this development, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi has called a meeting of select party leaders from Bihar on August 10 to take a final view of the offer.

Though the Congress had identified 40 odd seats for itself in the state, it is likely to settle for 32. The grand old party realises that driving a hard bargain with the RJD and the JD(U) may hurt the alliance’s chances of defeating the Bharatiya Janata Party-led combine in the crucial Bihar elections due around October.

Change in approach

The formula marks a qualitative change in the approach of both Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav over the seat-sharing arrangement. Until recently, each of the two parties had appeared determined to contest more seats than the other. Their hardened position besides the constant friction between the two leaders and their inability to evolve a working relationship had held up the seat-sharing talks for long.

The RJD’s viewpoint was aired a few months ago by its senior leader and former Union minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, who demanded 145 of the total 243 seats. In the last assembly elections of 2010, the RJD had won just 22 seats. But in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the party came second in a majority of the assembly segments. Citing this feat, the party claimed that in a head-to-head contest, its candidates would command more votes than those of the JD(U).

On his part, Nitish made it clear on June 7, when he and Lalu Yadav met Mulayam Singh Yadav at the Samajwadi Party leader’s Delhi residence, that he was not in favour of the two parties contesting an equal number of seats. The Bihar chief minister insisted that the RJD must accept less than 100 constituencies if it wanted to remain in the grand secular alliance in the state.

Though the next day, on June 8, Lalu Yadav and Mulayam Singh declared Nitish Kumar the alliance’s chief ministerial candidate in a hurriedly convened press conference, the tension between the two Bihar satraps continued on the issue of seat sharing.

Preparing against rebellion

The climbdown from both sides, which is being seen as a reflection of the alliance’s growing cohesion, is said to have become possible because of their realisation that a failure to strike a compromise could potentially strengthen the BJP, which is viewing the crucial state election as a do-or-die battle.

The two parties are, however, unlikely to identify early the specific seats they will get as part of their kitty. An early announcement, they fear, might give the BJP an opportunity to tap the large number of their leaders who might rebel at not getting tickets.

Already in Bihar, speculation is rife that the BJP is in touch with several RJD and JD(U) leaders who might switch camps if they are denied tickets.

“Talks to give final shape to the seat-sharing formula will begin after the concluding session of the assembly ends on August 7, and a formal announcement is likely around mid-August,” said the JD(U) leader. “But details of the seat-sharing would be made public only in the last minute, after the elections are announced.”