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JD(U) says INDIA bloc is collapsing but Cong says 'no implosion' in alliance

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New Delhi, Jan 27 (PTI) The opposition INDIA bloc was in the grip of a crisis on Saturday with the JD(U) saying the alliance was collapsing amid indications that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar will switch back to the NDA, prompting the Congress allege that the BJP is doing its best to cause a "mini implosion" in the coalition.

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The Congress, however, also exuded confidence that both Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee, being co-architects of the INDIA bloc, would remain a part of the alliance and said efforts were on by the Congress president to reach out to both of them.

Earlier, West Bengal Chief Minister Banerjee had announced that her party TMC will fight the Lok Sabha elections "alone" in the state, and if Kumar decides to return to the NDA fold, it will be another big blow to the opposition front formed to take on the BJP.

"Personally, yes the optics could have been better. There is no implosion. But the BJP is working overtime to ensure there is a minimum implosion if not a maximum implosion," Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said when asked about the developments.

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Ramesh said Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge has been trying to speak with Kumar and his office has responded. But the two are unable to connect due to their pre-occupations, the Congress general secretary said.

"We are willing to take any step to strengthen the INDIA" bloc, he said.

He also claimed that no one is unhappy, but admitted that the seat-sharing talks are difficult as everyone wants more seats.

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"We expect INDIA to move forward. The situation could be better. I won't say it is tense," he said.

Ramesh also claimed that they have finalised seat-sharing in many states but have not announced yet.

In the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, which has 80 Lok Sabha constituencies, the Samajwadi Party announced that it has offered 11 seats to the Congress, with former chief minister and SP chief Akhilesh Yadav asserting that their alliance is "off to a good start".

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Ramesh said senior leader Ashok Gehlot is holding talks with the SP chief over seat-sharing and it is taking place in a positive and constructive environment.

"We will inform you once a formula is finalised," he said.

Speaking in Karnataka, Kharge said his party expects that those who have the desire to protect the country's Constitution and democracy, will definitely not take any hasty steps.

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He said the Congress will make all efforts to keep the INDIA bloc united, though he added that he has no clarity as to what is in the JD(U) leadership's mind.

Responding to a question on the possibility of JD(U) going out of the INDIA alliance, Kharge said, "Are they (JD(U)) going out? I have not got any information about it so far. I have written a letter to them (JD(U) leadership) and have tried to talk to them. I don't know clearly what is in their minds." JDU general secretary K C Tyagi said the INDIA alliance is on the brink of collapse.

"We had succeeded in bringing all non-Congress parties together but the (alliance) is falling apart. In Punjab and Bihar, the (INDIA) alliance has nearly collapsed. Similarly, in West Bengal, the alliance is falling apart. Meanwhile, in Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav has asked Congress to work with an open heart," Tyagi said.

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He said Kumar never hankered after any position in the alliance but a section of the Congress leadership repeatedly insulted him. Tyagi said he could not see how the INDIA bloc parties could fight the "all-powerful" BJP.

The Bihar chief minister succeeded in bringing together several parties in Patna but the entire process became so limp that the INDIA bloc has had no joint meetings on leadership and agenda even though the Lok Sabha elections are now round the corner.

The Congress, however, asserted that the INDIA bloc is not imploding even though the BJP is trying its best to cause "mini-implosions" in the opposition alliance.

Ramesh said Kharge has been trying to speak with Kumar and his office has responded. But the two are unable to connect due to their pre-occupations, the Congress general secretary said.

He also recited a Bhagwad Gita shloka which talked about betrayal with friends while taking a swipe at Kumar. He claimed that Kumar has been categorically saying that we have to fight and defeat the BJP.

Ramesh also said that Kharge has already established contact with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and has also written to her.

"I am hopeful that Mamata Banerjee and Nitish Kumar, being co-architects of the opposition alliance, will continue to be part of the INDIA bloc," Ramesh said.

"I am sure the BJP is doing its best but I believe even insofar as the CM of Bihar is concerned, he was the co-architect of the INDIA bloc and hosted the meeting in Patna on June 23, the first meeting of the opposition parties. He came to Bengaluru and Mumbai and made major contributions," Ramesh said.

He also said that during the INDIA bloc meetings, Nitish Kumar had categorically stated that "we have to fight the BJP and defeat it". He had also criticised the prime minister.

All eyes were, meanwhile, on Nitish Kumar with the JD(U) chief appearing to be inching towards another U-turn.

For Kumar, who has maintained a deafening silence over the turmoil in the 'Mahagathbandhan', ignoring pleas from allies RJD, Congress and the Left to clear the confusion, it was business as usual as he attended official events in Patna and Buxar.

Meanwhile, at a party meeting, state BJP leaders stopped short of making a formal announcement of support to the JD(U) chief in the event of his pulling out of the 'Mahagathbandhan'.

BJP sources said instructions have been received from the top leadership to put on hold "any formal announcement" till Kumar, who had dumped the NDA less than three years ago, resigns.

The RJD separately held a party meeting in Patna and the Congress convened a meeting of its legislators in Purnea.

Kumar had joined hands with RJD, founded by his former arch-rival Lalu Prasad, in August 2022 after he severed ties with the BJP.

In view of the fast-moving political developments in Bihar, the Congress appointed former Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel as senior observer and he is headed to Patna on Saturday itself to talk to other parties and take stock of the situation within the party.

Congress' Bihar in-charge Mohan Prakash said this time the people of the state may not consider this an appropriate step and will give their verdict in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.

He also exuded confidence that the Congress MLAs would not switch and stay united, asserting that "no one will be able to take even a twig away from the Congress". PTI SKC/ASK RT

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