NEW DELHI (TIP): BJP and LJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan sealed a seat-sharing pact in Bihar that will see Paswan’s group contesting seven Lok Sabha seats, a development that marks the much-travelled politician’s return to the NDA-fold. Paswan surfaced on February 26 after keeping Congress, RJD and BJP on tenterhooks for the last few days and announced that his options are open.

“Opinion in LJP is not against going with BJP. In our party’s interests we need to take tough decisions,” he said. The nitty gritty of the pact saw Paswan agree to contest on seats that are not currently being held by the BJP. The decision is bound to cause heart burn among BJP hopefuls, but the party is pleased with the bargain. Paswan is seen to command the loyalty of a dalit community that is assertive and can add three-four per cent votes to BJP’s base that includes upper castes and some middle castes as well. Paswan prepared the ground for breaking with Congress and RJD by saying he was made a measly offer of a few seats.

But his decision to make up with BJP after having quit the NDA cabinet over the Gujarat 2002 riots seems driven by the assessment that saffron PM hopefulNarendra Modi is gaining traction in Bihar. Paswan’s switch helps BJP counter criticism that Modi’s projection as PM has isolated the party as sources point to Asom Gana Parishad leader Prafulla Mahanta’s statement on February 26 that he does not rule in or rule out a tie-up with BJP.

Mahanta along with BJD leader Naveen Patnaik stayed away from a third front inaugural on Tuesday and the Odisha CM’s posture is seen to reflect a convergence with BJP on seeing Congress as the common enemy. “There is no seat sharing with BJD, but we can work in our own ways to contain Congress,” said a BJP leader about the Odisha scene. BJP leaders feel the party has a satisfactory understanding with Paswan, and talks have centred around the need to select “clean” candidates.

Though CBI is threatening to question Paswan in an appointments scam, the process will not be complete until the elections. In Tamil Nadu, BJP is striving to stitch up an alliance with smaller parties like PMK and DMDK besides MDMK leader Vaiko who is already in NDA. Paswan’s return is significant as he had quit the NDA over the Gujarat 2002 riots, although he was also unhappy over being removed from the telecom ministry when he was in the Vajpayee government.

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A party leader close to Paswan said, “We have reached an understanding but have had to cede the choice to BJP. It’s a last minute alliance and BJP has already finalised candidates for more seats. We did not have much room to negotiate on the choice of seats. But we are not disappointed, the allocation is respectable.” Sources, however, said there is an agreement on LJP contesting from Vaishali, Hajipur, Jamui, Samastipur and Khagaria.

Paswan’s son Chirag who is also the chairman of party’s Parliamentary board, said, “LJP Parliamentary Board has passed a resolution that all steps, even if they are strong ones, should be taken in the interest of the party and if an alternative alliance is to be firmed up, party chief Ram Vilas Paswan should take the decision.” Party leaders harped on the fact that the BJP alliance has come about because of Congress and RJD not giving the respect LJP deserved.

Ram Vilas Paswan said :”We had our grievances with RJD for a long time. I had even gone to meet Lalu Prasad in jail. But soon after he was out, RJD leaders started saying LJP should be given three seats. That is why we left to Congress to decide the seat sharing. I waited for months, but there was no decision. “They assumed that LJP is nothing, it is irrelevant. If one takes 25 seats (RJD) and the other 15 (Cong). It means they do not treat LJP as part of the alliance….

That is why the party has authorised me to explore new alternative,” he said. With BJP also having tied up with a Kushwaha community leader Upendra Kushwaha, the party confirmed that it will give away three seats to them. The three likely seats are Jehanabad, Seohar and Sitamarhi Lok Sabha seats.