Intensive negotiations are on the cards for the opposition grand alliance in Bihar as top leaders of the formation will meet in New Delhi on Wednesday to thrash out the thorny issue of seat-sharing for 40 Lok Sabha seats in the state.
The general election is scheduled to begin on April 11 and will continue till May 19. Polling on the different seats will be held in Bihar in seven phases.
The ''mahagathbandhan'', as the grand alliance is called in local parlance, comprises old allies like the Congress and the RJD, besides new entrants such as Upendra Kushwaha's RLSP, Jitan Ram Manjhi's Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM), Sharad Yadav's Loktantrik Janata Dal (LJD) and the Vikashsheel Insaan Party (VIP), a fledgling outfit floated by former Bollywood set designer Mukesh Sahni.
The grand alliance also seeks to have an electoral understanding with the Left Front, which has three constituents in Bihar the CPI, the CPI(ML) and the CPI(M), and the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (SP) and Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
The talks would be centred around a tentative formula wherein the RJD will get the lions share of 17 seats, followed by 11 seats for the Congress and four for the RLSP. The HAM, LJD and VIP would get one seat each, according to sources in grand alliance.
It has also been proposed to leave five seats for the Left parties, the SP and the BSP as a goodwill gesture, which may come in handy for the Congress that has substantial stake in adjoining states of West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.
The sources said the RJD, which is likely to be represented at the Delhi parleys by its heir apparent Tejashwi Yadav, has misgivings over agreeing to the formula which would require it to drastically scale down its stakes.
The RJD had fought on 27 seats in the 2014 general elections, though it managed to win only four.
The Congress has been reportedly playing hardball, threatening to pull out of the alliance and go it alone in the Lok Sabha polls if asked to settle for a formula where it gets less than a quarter of the total number of seats.
Mr Kushwaha, who gave up his ministerial berth in the Narendra Modi government to quit the NDA and join the grand alliance, may find himself vindicated if the RLSP ends up with four seats, which would be twice the number he was reportedly offered by BJP president Amit Shah.
However, Jitan Ram Manjhi's demands that range from "readiness to contest 20 seats" to a number "more than that of even the Congress" or greater than what "later entrants like the RLSP" were to get squirmed when reporters approached him with queries about the tentative formula on Tuesday.
"This is all media speculation. We are sure that we will get a respectable number of seats given the fact that our party has the largest support base after the RJD. But, if we do not get a respectable share we will still work towards strengthening the Mahagathbandhan," he told reporters.
"After the rounds of talks with alliance partners on March 13 and 14, we will be holding our parliamentary board meeting on March 15 where further decisions will be taken," Mr Manjhi said.
The rumblings within the ''mahagathbandhan'' is being closely watched by the NDA, comprising the BJP, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's JD(U) and Ram Vilas Paswan's LJP.
"We have already announced that the BJP and the JD(U) will fight 17 seats each leaving the remaining six for the LJP. Announcement of candidates will be made before the notification for the first phase on March 18," a senior NDA leader said.
"We have no problem with the Mahagathbandhan announcing its nominees before us. They may wallow in the impression of having stolen a march. We would be getting the opportunity to make last-minute strategic decisions," the leader said.