With his party's talks with Lalu Prasad's RJD for a tie-up in Bihar coming under strain, Congress leader Shakeel Ahmed, who was eyeing a Lok Sabha seat in the state, today said he was willing to forego his claim on it to save the "secular" alliance.
The remarks came even as party sources said that back channel talks with Nitish Kumar's JD(U) have also begun. There is a view that Congress talking to JD(U) again may be a pressure tactic to make RJD fall in line as it is playing hard ball. AICC general secretary Ahmed, who had won the Madhubani seat in 2004, was keen to contest this time but RJD is not inclined to spare it as its leader Abdul Bari Sidiqqui, who was the runner-up from Madhubani in 2009 Lok Sabha elections, is no mood to leave the seat.
Ahmed had come third from the seat won by BJP's Hukumdeo Narai Yadav in last Lok Sabha polls. "When the issue is big and stakes are high for national interest, individuals do not matter. Any secular alliance should not break due to my claim. I am a disciplined soldier of the party and will abide by whatever decision is taken by the party," Ahmed said. His remarks came after he met the party's Screening Committee Chairman for Bihar elections P C Chacko.
Congress had fought the 2004 Lok Sabha election in alliance with RJD and Ram Vilas Paswan's LJP and the alliance had won 29 of the 40 Parliamentary seats. Congress had won three seats then including Madhubani, Sasaram and Aurangabad. In 2009, Congress fought alone as its alliance for Lok Sabha polls broke with RJD and LJP. The party won only two seats retaining Sasaram and losing the other two. The other seat it won was Kishanganj.
While Paswan has aligned with BJP this time, RJD has asked Congress to decide on its offer of contesting 11 Lok Sabha seats.
While the offer includes Sasaram and Aurangabad, the party is not ready to spare Madhubani.
In the meanwhile, party sources say that back channel talks with Nitish Kumar's JD (U) have also begun. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's party has linked special category status to Bihar as a pre-condition to any tie-up with Congress, a demand which Congress may find tough to fulfill fearing similar demands from other states.
Top Congress leaders refused to come on record on the issue. A Congress leader speaking on condition of anonymity rued that some of the seats offered by RJD to Congress will do no good to the party. The seats that RJD has offered to Congress include Hajipur, once the Parliamentary seat of LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan, which is now held by JD(U)'s Ram Sundar Das. The other seat that RJD is learnt to have offered to Congress is Nitish Kumar's stronghold Nalanda.
Congress was earlier keen on seats like Madhubani, Nawada, Jehanabad, Bhagalpur, Sasaram, Aurangabad and East Champaran. A section in the Congress wants the party to revisit the issue of alliance with Nitish Kumar, an option which was much in talk after JD(U) walked out of NDA in June last year.
But the majority of Congressmen had been favouring an alliance with RJD as they believed Lalu Prasad's party is the rising force in the state.
Ironically, Shakeel Ahmed, whose preferred seat Madhubani has now become a bone of contention, was the strongest votary of an alliance with the RJD when some other Congress leaders were wary of aligning with a "tainted" leader after Prasad's conviction in the fodder scam.