The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Marandi looks for substitutes

Ranchi, Feb. 21: Chief minister Babulal Marandi has good reason to have survival nightmares after the crisis precipitated by the five non-BJP ministers, who yesterday demanded that he should resign.

If the four Samata Party ministers and Janata Dal (United)’s Lalchand Mahto decide to withdraw support to the BJP-led government, they will do so without inviting action under the anti-defection law. The legislation permits defection by one-third members of any political party in the House. Since Samata has five MLAs and the JD(U) has three, any defection will be constitutional.

This arithmetic, read with the “do-or-die” posturing of the five rebels, means that the Marandi government, which has survived a similar threat on at least one earlier occasion, is facing its most serious crisis since assuming office on November 15, 2000.

BJP sources confirmed the party leadership and the chief minister were “perturbed” over the threat which, if carried through, would reduce the government to a minority with a strength of 39 in an 81-member House.

“Feelers have been sent not only to the JMM but to the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal. Obviously, no one will switch sides for free. But the waiting game will go on till February 27, the ‘deadline’ set by the rebels for Marandi to resign,” the sources said.

The chief minister has three options: win the rebels back to his side, break the other parties and third, dissolve the House and go for fresh elections. “The party will test the options in the same order. The rebels say they do not want to talk to Marandi but are ready to take up the matter with the BJP’s central leadership. At least, they are willing to talk,” the BJP leader said.

When the five Samata ministers “resigned” from the Marandi government last year on the issue of Rajya Sabha candidature, the rebellion was put down apparently by the central leadership.

“This time, the central leaders of the Samata Party and the JD(U) are not in the picture so far,” Samata sources said.

The Samata rebels are Madhu Singh, Bachcha Singh, Jaleshwar Mahto and Ramesh Singh Munda.

The crisis surfacing before the Poraiyahat Assembly bypoll has come as an opportunity to the Opposition to target Marandi. “JMM president Sibu Soren’s allegation that Marandi offered Rs 1 crore each to five party legislators should be seen in this context. The JMM is locked in a battle of prestige at Poraiyahat. So it wants to hit the BJP. Soren’s allegation could also be a tactical move to ensure that its legislators do not change sides,” sources said.

A senior Congress leader said none of his party’s MLAs would cross the floor because that would mean political suicide for them. “At least four MLAs are needed to defect from the Congress which has a strength of 11. But if four legislators defect, what will they do in the next election'” asked the leader.

The RJD, with nine members, sources said, could be an easier target. “Only three legislators are needed for defecting. Post-bifurcation, the RJD does not seem to have a future in Jharkhand,” sources said.

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