Manoeuvres in Jharkhand

Published : Apr 11, 2003 00:00 IST

Dissidence within the BJP-led alliance in Jharkhand paves the way for the ouster of Chief Minister Babulal Marandi and the ascent of BJP novice Arjun Munda to the post.

in Ranchi

THE state of Jharkhand, formed as recently as in November 2000, had its first major dose of political turmoil this month. At the end of this round, the Bharatiya Janata Party Chief Minister Babulal Marandi, outwitted by seven of his own Ministers, was replaced. Faced with the impossibility of garnering majority support in the 81-member House after the group of seven voted against the Industry Department's Money Bill tabled in the Assembly on March 13, Marandi resigned on March 17. The dissidents had meanwhile staked claim to form a government with possible help from parties such as the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), the Congress(I), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Communist Party of India (CPI). Marandi threw in his towel just hours before he was asked to face a trial of strength in the Assembly as required by Speaker Inder Singh Namdhari.

In order to counter the game plan of the dissident Ministers who resigned from the government on March 13 and whose only demand was the removal of Babulal Marandi as Chief Minister, the State unit of the BJP, at the prompting of party general secretary Rajnath Singh, promptly chose Welfare Minister Arjun Munda as the new BJP Legislature Party leader. Munda later met Governor M. Rama Jois on the night of March 17 and staked his claim to the post of Chief Minister. He produced a list of 43 legislators, including the seven dissidents who returned to the fold of the BJP-led alliance after Marandi's exit. Arjun Munda was sworn in the next day. In the first round, all the four independent MLAs were included in the Ministry in an apparent bid to secure their loyalty.

The resignation of the Marandi Ministry was a deft move that averted the risky prospect of a test of strength on the floor of the Assembly. The dissidents who returned to the fold of the ruling alliance include Madhu Singh, Jaleswar Mahato, Ramesh Singh Munda (all Samata Party), Lalchand Mahato, Baijnath Ram (Janata Dal-United), Joba Majhi and Samresh Singh (Independents). In the Assembly, the BJP has 32 legislators, the JMM 12, the Congress(I) 11, the RJD nine, the Samata Party five, the Janata Dal (United) three, the CPI two, the Marxist Coordination Committee one, and the CPI (Marxist-Leninist) one apart from the four independents. One seat, Poriyahat, remains vacant (the byelection is scheduled to be held on March 24). The ruling alliance includes the BJP, the Samata Party and the Janata Dal (United), with a combined strength of 40. The support of the independents takes the total strength to 44. The remaining 36 seats belong to the Opposition parties of which the JMM, with 12 seats is the largest party.

Political observers wonder if the hastily made arrangements within the ruling alliance to form a new Ministry will endure. The overall political situation in Jharkhand remains fluid. Speaker Inder Singh Namdhari, who belongs to the Janata Dal (United), who was projected as an alternative to Marandi, is apparently ready and willing to continue his manoeuvres. Moreover, if the BJP loses the Poriyahat seat it will reduce the margin of seats in the Assembly between the ruling alliance and the Opposition even further. There is also the possibility of the independents switching sides again.

MARCH 17 was a day of high political drama; the resignation of Marandi and the election of Munda came within a span of seven hours. Marandi tendered his resignation at 10 a.m., and it was accepted to "avoid a constitutional crisis". Munda became the new leader at 5 p.m. Following Marandi's resignation, the Governor adjourned the House until March 20.

Soon after his resignation, an emotional Marandi told Frontline: "I feel very relaxed and comfortable now. For the past 15 days I had been feeling very suffocated. It was only due to the love and respect of BJP workers, officials and the high command that I did not resign earlier. I have resigned in order to end the deadlock and the constitutional crisis gripping the State.''

Asked why he did not seek a vote of confidence on the floor of the House, the outgoing Chief Minister said: "I did not run away from the battleground. But since efforts to break the deadlock were continuing, it became clear that there was no need to go to the Assembly convened by the Speaker, Inder Singh Namdhari, on March 17 ignoring my request to him to convene the Assembly on March 27." Marandi said he would extend all support to the new Chief Minister but he did not fail to point out that "making Inder Singh Namdhari the Speaker was the biggest mistake of his life".

The rebellious mood of the seven Ministers had convinced Marandi that his chances of victory in the vote of confidence were practically nil. Had he lost a confidence vote, the Governor would have been duty-bound to invite other claimants, possibly paving the way for the formation of a non-BJP-led government. The rebels were ready with their plan to back Inder Singh Namdhari as Chief Minister. While the Congress(I) agreed to support a non-BJP-led government from the outside, parties such as the JMM, the RJD and the CPI decided to be part of such a coalition Ministry. The four independents also agreed to join a non-BJP-led coalition government. In order to prevent such a situation, the BJP central leadership decided to make Marandi the sacrificial goat.

Defending their last-minute somersault, the rebels said that they had decided to return to the fold as their one-point demand of the removal of Marandi had been met and also because they had sensed the Congress(I)'s "evil designs'' to dislodge the government to pave the way for mid-term elections. "We sensed that the Congress(I) was opposing the candidature of Speaker Namdhari and was supporting the cause of a tribal candidate just to pave the way for the dislodging of the new coalition in the months to come," Minister Madhu Singh told Frontline.

After Marandi's exit, the rebel Ministers joined a dinner party on March 17 with Rajnath Singh and Arjun Munda at the residence of Janata Dal (United) MLA Lal Chand Mahato. Samata Party general secretary Mangni Lal Mandal, who arrived in Ranchi on the directions of senior Samata Party leader and Union Minister Nitish Kumar, joined the party. Around 10 p.m., the alliance leaders went to the Raj Bhavan to inform the Governor about the political developments. Coming out of the Raj Bhavan, a representative of the rebels said: "There is no dissent anymore. We have accepted Arjun Munda as the new Chief Minister. The plans of the Congress(I) and the RJD have been foiled.''

Delighted at his election, Arjun Munda, the second Chief Minister of the 28-month-old State, said: "I have high regard for Babulal Marandi, who is like my elder brother. He has laid a strong foundation for development in the State and I will capitalise on it.'' Arjun Munda, who began his political career with the JMM, joined the BJP four years ago.

A bitter Inder Singh Namdhari said that the dissidents, along with Opposition leaders, had approached him seeking his consent to lead a secular government in the larger interests of the State. "I had accepted it under the rebels' pressure and told them that I would be ready to take it provided the move paved the way for a better future for the State and the people," Inder Singh Namdhari said. While refusing to comment on the rebels' last minute "betrayal", he said: "Everybody including they themselves know what they have done, and it is below my dignity to make any comment.''

Reacting to the rebel Ministers' political volte face, JMM chief Shibu Soren said: "They were fighting only to grab a major share of the loot." Soren said he was happy that the Opposition had succeeded in exposing the contradictions and the lack of character within the ruling coalition. Referring to Speaker Inder Singh Namdhari's role in the developments, Soren said: "He is the victor in the battle because he had always maintained that the Marandi government was not functioning at all.'' The JMM leader said that he did not consider that the Opposition had lost its cause. "We have exposed the BJP's claim of providing good governance. The people can now see the true faces of the greedy politicians who form the coalition.''

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