Jharkhand, at last

Print edition : August 19, 2000

The ruling Rashtriya Janata Dal agreed to the formation of Jharkhand though a large chunk of Bihar's revenues will go to the new State, possibly because the party will have a majority of its own in the Bihar Assembly after the bifurcation of the State.

KALYAN CHAUDHURI

THE stage is set for the formation of the State of Jharkhand following the adoption of the Bihar Reorganisation Bill in the Lok Sabha on August 2, but political equations remain fluid in the south Bihar region which is to be part of the proposed State.

The establishment of the State is considered a major achievement for the tribal people who have been agitating for a State of their own for 50 years. Crackers were burst and drums were beaten to celebrate the passage of the Bill. Thousands of tribal peop le joined the "victory rallies" taken out by the Congress(I), the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and the Bharatiya Janata Party in Ranchi, the proposed capital of the new State. As the news reached Ranchi and Jamshedpur, people gathered in the streets, sme aring one another with gulal (colours) and distributing sweets.

The two Houses of the Bihar legislature had ratified the Bill on April 25 paving the way for a bifurcation of Bihar. The Jharkhand State will comprise 18 districts in southern Bihar - Ranchi, Gumla, Lohardanga, East Singbhum, West Singhbhum, Hazaribagh, Giridih, Kodarma, Chatra, Dhanbad, Bokaro, Palamau, Garhwa, Dumka, Deoghar, Godda, Pakure and Sahebgunj. It will take 79,638 sq km of Bihar's total area of 1,74,083 sq km. Although the ruling Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supported the Bill, it demanded a R s.1,79,900-crore economic package for Bihar from the Centre as compensation for the loss of the forest and mineral-rich region. The Centre's rejection of the demand has angered it. The Samata Party and the Janata Dal (United), both constituents of the BJ P-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), had registered their strong opposition on the ground that the Centre did not speak of the package; they extended only "conditional support" to the Bill. They demanded that the financial package for the rest of Bi har, as passed by the State Assembly, be spelt out by the Union Home Minister L. K. Advani who introduced the Bill in the Lok Sabha. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) opposed the Bill.

JMM leader Sibu Soren and pro-Jharkhand legislators after the passage of the Bihar Reorganisation Bill 2000 in the State Assembly on April 25.-PRASHANT MITRA

The passage of the Reorganisation Bill has already kickstarted the numbers game in order to form the government in Jharkhand. Knowledgeable sources said that the NDA, the single largest political entity in Jharkhand, will face a power struggle within its elf over the Chief Minister's post. The JMM has already staked its claim. Despite hectic lobbying by political groups and local heavyweights, JMM chief Sibu Soren, often referred to as the architect of the Statehood movement, has emerged a strong contend er. However, the BJP, the dominant partner, opposes Soren's candidature. A strong NDA lobby is promoting Union Minister of State for Forest and Environment Babulal Marandi. But there is little chance of the BJP leader emerging as a consensus candidate. A senior BJP leader from Ranchi, Karia Munda, who has been instrumental in weaning away a large number of Hindu tribal votes from the JMM and the RJD, is also in the fray.

Laloo Prasad Yadav, RJD chief and former Bihar Chief Minister, has apparently been trying to wean the JMM from the BJP by offering Soren the support of his party and the Congress(I). Laloo Prasad's game plan is to prop up Sibu Soren as the Chief Minister of the new State with the backing of the RJD, the Congress(I) and some allies of the RJD. His effort is to prevent the NDA from forming a government in Jharkhand.

The NDA has a slender edge in the proposed 81-member Jharkhand Assembly. The BJP has 32 members, its allies Samata Party and Janata Dal(U) have five and three MLAs each. The independent member from Silli, Sudesh Mahato, has been with the NDA since the la st Assembly poll. The non-NDA group, on the other hand, has one MLA fewer - the JMM has 12, the Congress(I) 11, the RJD nine, the Communist Party of India three, and the CPI-ML (Liberation) one. Four independents - one belonging to A.K. Ray's Marxist Coo rdination Committee and the others backed by small Jharkhand parties - take the total to 40. "The battle is evenly poised as the secular parties have as many MLAs as the communal alliance," said RJD spokesman Shivanand Tiwary.

The NDA considers Laloo Yadav's move an "exercise in futility". The leader of the BJP's legislative party in the State Assembly, Sushil Kumar Modi, said that the BJP-led alliance was all set to form the government. He is confident that Sibu Soren and the JMM will never side with the RJD, which has all along opposed the creation of a separate State.

On his return to Patna from New Delhi on August 8, Soren made an ambiguous statement that he had no problems either with the NDA or with the RJD and its allies, which had helped in the passage of the Bill in the State Assembly as well as in the Lok Sabha . Parrying questions as to whether he would join the Congress(I) and the RJD if the NDA denied him the Chief Minister's post, Soren said: "The post is not important to me. All these issues will be decided by the party at the appropriate time."

The creation of Jharkhand is likely to strengthen Rabri Devi's RJD government, as its dependence on the Congress(I) will now decrease substantially. Over half of the Congress(I)'s 23 MLAs in the Bihar Assembly are from the Jharkhand region and will autom atically become members of the Jharkhand State Assembly. The ruling RJD, which has only 135 members in the 324-strong Bihar Assembly, was forced to ally with the Congress(I) and give it 21 ministerial berths in order to cobble a majority. Now, with the c reation of Jharkhand, the Congress(I)'s strength in the Bihar Assembly will come down to 11. The RJD has little presence in the Jharkhand area, so the party's numbers in the Bihar Assembly will only come down by eight. The overall strength of the Bihar A ssembly will come down to 243 after 81 MLAs go to the Jharkhand side. Consequently, the Rabri Devi government, with 127 legislators, will have comfortable majority on its own, thereby rendering the Congress(I)'s bargaining power void. Political observers believe that in that event most Congress(I) Ministers in the Rabri Devi government will lose their posts.

With the creation of Jharkhand, the truncated Bihar will suffer a revenue loss of Rs.1,500 crores annually, as the major contributor to the State Exchequer, mines and minerals, and a large chunk of the commercial taxes will go to the newly formed State. Currently about 63 per cent of Bihar's total revenue comes from south and central Bihar. Against an estimated annual revenue collection of Rs.4,200 crores, the truncated Bihar will be able to collect only Rs.1,984 crores: however, the Jharkhand State wil l begin business with a net revenue source of Rs.2,215 crores. The per capita revenue collection of the remaining Bihar will be far less than that of Jharkhand, as 65 per cent of the population of undivided Bihar will remain with the residual State. All the 18 of the 55 districts that go to Jharkhand are sparsely populated because of their hilly terrain.

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