RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, RLSP chief Upendra Kushwaha and new entrant to the "Mahagathbandhan" (Grand Alliance) Mukesh Sahni met Lalu Yadav in a Ranchi jail Saturday as part of the process for seat-sharing in the opposition coalition in Bihar for the 2019 general election.
Lalu Yadav is lodged at the Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) in Ranchi on medical grounds, after his conviction in the multi-crore-rupee fodder scam cases.
Sources close to the jailed Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief said preliminary talks were held between Lalu Yadav and the three leaders regarding seat-sharing in the anti-NDA grouping.
The RJD is the pivot of the "Mahagathbandhan" in Bihar and hence, Lalu Yadav's approval in finalising the allocation of seats is required.
The ruling Janata Dal (United), led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, poked fun at the leaders going to the Hotwar jail in Ranchi to "prostrate" before the imprisoned RJD chief for finalisation of the seat-sharing.
At present, the Grand Alliance in Bihar comprises the Congress, the RJD, the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP), Mr Sahni's fledgling outfit, the Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP), former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi's Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) and veteran socialist leader Sharad Yadav's Loktantrik Janata Dal (LJD).
Mr Sahni, a Bollywood set designer-turned-politician who has launched the VIP, joined the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) grouping last Sunday, hours after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the JD(U) and the Ramvilas Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) in Delhi announced the seat-sharing formula among the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) constituents for the 40 Lok Sabha segments in Bihar.
After the meeting with Lalu Yadav, Mr Kushwaha, accompanied by Mr Sahni, told reporters in Ranchi that the talks were primarily about the RJD chief's health.
"There were some political discussions also, the details of which we need not make public. But, of course, we discussed the strategy to defeat the BJP-led NDA in both Bihar and Jharkhand," he added.
To a pointed query on seat-sharing among the Grand Alliance constituents, the RLSP chief said it would be discussed at a later stage.
"All the alliance partners were not present today. A seat-sharing formula must be arrived at in the presence of representatives of all the constituents," he added.
Asked whether he hoped for a bigger share in the Grand Alliance compared to when the RLSP was in the NDA, which had offered him only two of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar, Mr Kushwaha, who also reportedly wants the Chatra seat in Jharkhand for his confidant Nagmani, said, "Wait for the opportune time, you will get to know."
Lalu Yadav's younger son and RJD heir apparent Tejashwi Yadav also met the party chief after Mr Kushwaha and told reporters that there was no hurry to announce a seat-sharing formula.
"Our priority is to make the NDA bite the dust and not to make the number of seats a prestige issue," he said.
Meanwhile, Bihar Congress president Madan Mohan Jha told a regional news channel in Patna that the seat-sharing formula would be worked out only after January 14.
"We think the Congress should get at least 12 (seats), but we will also have to take into account that we have to accommodate many constituents," he said.
January 14 is the date on which "Kharmas", a month considered inauspicious, ends. Lalu Yadav had reportedly sought the deferment of a decision on seat-sharing until that date, Mr Jha said.
Meanwhile, the JD(U) launched a stinging attack on Lalu Yadav and former Union minister Kushwaha over the meeting of the two leaders in Ranchi.
JD(U) MLC and spokesperson Neeraj Kumar issued a statement referring to Lalu Yadav as the "prisoner no. 3351" of the Hotwar jail and accused Mr Kushwaha, whom he did not refer by name, of going to the Jharkhand capital to perform a "dandwat" (prostration) before the imprisoned RJD chief.
"I had predicted that seat-sharing in the Mahagathbandhan will have to follow a dandwat by all the constituents at the Hotwar jail. It has been proved right," he said.
In a dig at Lalu Yadav over the allegations of illegal land deals levelled against him, most notably by Deputy Chief Minister and senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi, the JD(U) spokesperson hoped that those visiting the "prisoner no. 3351" had carried the records of their assets as they would have to part with some of those in return for an assurance of a ticket from Lalu Yadav.