Over to Koda

Print edition : October 06, 2006

It may not be long before the Madhu Koda Ministry in Jharkhand meets the fate of the ones that preceded it in the past six years.

VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN in Ranchi

Madhu Koda, the new Chief Minister.-

"The only consistent feature in Jharkhand's political firmament is its continual inconsistency. So, be ready to come here periodically and witness these repeating changeovers," said a senior bureaucrat in the State commenting on the fall of the Arjun Munda-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Ministry and the creation of a new government under the leadership of Madhu Koda, an independent member of the Assembly.

Indeed, the Koda Ministry is already showing signs of falling in line with this phenomenon, which has repeatedly come to the fore in the past six years since the formation of the State. Koda seemed to enjoy widespread support to form the government when Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Arjun Munda bowed out on September 15 without taking the floor test in the 82-member Assembly. He got the support of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) partners such as the Congress, the Jharkhand Mukthi Morcha (JMM) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), and of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) and the Forward Bloc. The Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM), a new and fast-growing party led by former Chief Minister Babulal Marandi and former Deputy Chief Minister Stephen Marandi, also agreed to accept a Koda-led government.

However, by the time he took oath as Chief Minister on September 19 and proved his majority on the floor of the Assembly the next day, Koda no longer enjoyed extensive support. The CPI(ML) turned against him and even voted against his government when it sought a confidence vote. The JVM voted for the government but made it clear that its support was not unconditional. All this meant that during the trust vote the Koda government had the support of only 41 members, clearly a touch-and-go situation. On September 15, Koda and his principal promoter, Railway Minister and RJD president Lalu Prasad, claimed the support of 43 members.

Noises within several parties supporting Koda have already raised doubts about the longevity of the new government. These noises relate to claims for positions of power, ranging from ministerial berths to the stewardship of corporations; at least half a dozen members have indicated that they may reconsider support if their wishes are not fulfilled.

But, as the bureaucrat pointed out, all this is not new for Jharkhand. All governments in the State in the past six years had wafer-thin majorities and leaders of all these Ministries succumbed to personal pulls and pressures. Interestingly, the first government, headed by Babulal Marandi, and the last one, headed by Munda, fell in similar circumstances, wilting under the weight of the ambitions and demands of individual Members of the Legislative Assembly.

The Marandi government fell in March 2003 when seven Ministers voted against the Industry Department's Money Bill tabled in the Assembly. The Ministers - Madhu Singh, Jaleswar Mahato, Ramesh Singh Munda (all Samata Party), Lalchand Mahato, Baijnath Ram (both Janata Dal-United), Joba Majhi and Samresh Singh (Independents) - went against their own government not for reasons of policy, politics or ideology but because they detested Marandi's "style of functioning".

They were ready to stay on with the ruling coalition if Marandi was removed as Chief Minister. The BJP leadership promptly acceded and propped up Arjun Munda as the new Legislature Party leader. There were suggestions at that time, even within the BJP, that Munda was instrumental in engineering the revolt and that his ambition to be Chief Minister was the real reason for the seven Ministers' resentment against Marandi.

Munda found himself at the receiving end when four Ministers - Madhu Koda, Enos Ekka, Harinarain Rai (all independent) and Kamlesh Singh of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) - quit and withdrew support to his government. Their action was, again, not motivated by political or ideological considerations. All of them alleged that "Munda was not taking Jharkhand in the right direction" and that his " autocratic style of functioning was not conducive to the balanced growth of the State".

Koda had a personal grievance too, which he aired in public - that Munda was standing in the way of the completion of a road, connecting Hatgamharia and Naraiburu, in his constituency of Jagannathpur in West Singhbhum district. Many observers believe that differences between Munda and Koda over the road snowballed into the crisis that felled the NDA government.

According to Stephen Marandi, though personal issues and ambition may have motivated the revolt against Munda, the collapse of the Ministry was something that dominant sections of the people wanted. "To that extent," he told Frontline, "even these personal ambitions have a political value." Marandi added that the real test of the political value of the new dispensation and its leadership would be the manner in which it conducts itself and the administration.

By any yardstick, Koda's bargaining power and skills were far superior to that of the other MLAs who walked out of the NDA government. That is obvious from the manner in which he was chosen Chief Minister of the new government. Koda overcame stiff resistance from the JMM, numerically the largest party in the UPA with 17 MLAs, and its chief Shibu Soren in hoisting himself to the top post.

Soren, who had headed a short-lived UPA government immediately after the 2005 Assembly elections,, had wanted to become Chief Minister. Sources in the UPA said that Koda's real strength in taking on Soren was the unstinted support he received from Lalu Prasad. According to the sources, Lalu Prasad and Soren have not been in the best of terms since the 2005 elections and Lalu Prasad used the present situation to sideline Soren and score a point in the power game between the two Union Ministers.

Another factor that apparently helped Koda is the backing he received from a section of industrialists and corporate houses. With its rich deposits of minerals and other natural resources, Jharkhand has always been a core area of interest for industrialists and corporate houses of the country and the power play within this community has from time to time reflected in the State's politics.

The Munda government tried to attract new industrial investors in sectors as varied as mining, steel and power. In the process, it signed Memorandums of Understanding with 42 companies, including those belonging to the Tatas, the Jindals and the Lakshmi Nivas Mittal group, for projects totalling Rs.1.91 trillion.

However, actual work on the ground did not start on any of the projects during the one-and-a-half-year Munda rule. Industrialists and sections of the government were clearly in an argumentative mood in the weeks and months preceding the fall of the Munda Ministry.

One of the first announcements Koda made was that he will review all the MoUs signed during the Munda regime. While this is indeed a demand raised by large sections of the State's working class as well as social action groups, the qualitative dimensions of the review would become known only as and when it happens. "The biggest question in this regard," said Vinod Kumar Singh, the lone CPI (ML) MLA, "is whether the review would be motivated by larger, political and economic issues or by individual considerations, including money."

On its part, the government has said that it would be guided by a Common Minimum Programme (CMP) and by steering and coordination committees that would monitor the functioning of the Ministry. The CMP as well as the committees are modelled on the ones at the Centre. Shibu Soren is the head of the steering committee.

The ousted NDA has, by all indications, adopted a wait-and-watch policy. Its assessment seems to be that the new government would discredit itself in the next few months ironing out differences between various supporting parties and MLAs even if it manages to stay afloat. The party leadership, said a BJP legislator to Frontline, is hopeful that the emerging situation would help the party make gains at the grassroots well in time to secure a majority in the next Assembly.

It is this calculation about the next elections, the MLA added, that made the party stop goading former Speaker Inder Singh Namdhari to disqualify three MLAs - Enos Ekka, Kamlesh Singh and Stephen Marandi - before the Munda government faced the trust vote in the Assembly.

The NDA boycott of the trust vote of the Koda government - citing a technical reason that pro tem Speaker Pradip Kumar Balmuchu was not entitled to conduct the trust vote proceedings - is also in keeping with its strategy of letting the new dispensation have a troublesome run. It remains to be seen how far these hopes would work out, especially given the dismal track record of the Munda government in key areas, including infrastructure and industries. The overriding public perception that the Munda government ensured its survival over the past 18 months by compromising with individual MLAs and corporate houses also militates against a forceful NDA campaign against the Koda Ministry.

The net result, clearly, points to a flux in politics and political strategies in Jharkhand as individual agendas and interests rise above the interests of the State and its people.

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