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Crunch hour for Marandi

Ranchi, Feb. 26: Jharkhand plunged deeper into a political crisis today as chief minister Babulal Marandi was joined in his ‘save-my-chair’ prayers by all 16 BJP ministers but the Dissident Five refused to budge from their stand to replace him by tomorrow when the budget session begins.

This, after feverish lobbying by Marandi’s emissaries till late night did not yield results, though a senior party leader described his meetings with the rebels as “inconclusive”.

Dissident minister Madhu Singh dropped a bombshell and said if the BJP did not remove Marandi by tomorrow, they would announce the name of “a non-BJP chief minister from the National Democratic Alliance the next day”.

But BJP vice-president Kailashpati Mishra said there was no question of replacing Marandi. “With Marandi being given a clean chit by deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani on several occasions, it would be impossible for the BJP to replace him or work in an NDA government headed by a non-BJP man,” party sources said.

The sole pro-Marandi Samata minister, Ramchandra Kesri, resigned as the leader of his party in the House on “moral grounds” and sent the letter to party chief George Fernandes, Nitish Kumar and Speaker Inder Singh Namdhari.

“When four Samata ministers are adamant on their demand to remove Marandi, thus creating trouble for the NDA government, there is no point in my continuing as the leader of the legislators. Neither the Samata legislature party has taken any collective decision (on Marandi’s removal) nor are there any directions from the party’s central leadership,” Kesri said.

Madhu Singh’s statement on having a non-BJP chief minister from the NDA, sources said, was a clever political posturing to convey the message that the rebels had tried till the end to “save the NDA coalition” so that they were not caught on the wrong side of history.

“Since the rebels belong to the Samata Party and the Janata Dal (United), both allies of the BJP at the Centre, they do not want to be seen as busters of the NDA coalition. But the buck stops there. They have shown no signs of relenting to continue in a government headed by Marandi,” the sources added.

Samata minister Bachcha Singh dittoed the line and told The Telegraph: “Ab hum log bahut aage nikal gaye hain. Lautne ki sambhavna nahi hai (We have travelled too far now. The chances of retracing our steps are bleak).” JD(U) rebel Lalchand Mahto also ruled out any change of stance.

The BJP tried to stand its ground. After a meeting of party ministers and senior office-bearers, Mishra said: “There will be no change of leadership. The BJP legislators will meet tomorrow with the same view on their leader. The chief minister is ready to discuss the other issues — personal or collective — within the council of ministers.”

It is not just an NDA coalition but a government supported by Independents as well. I think no one will stall the excellent development work being done out by the government.”

Displaying a rare phenomenon of “a united Opposition and a divided NDA”, leaders of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal met today and said they were willing to support all efforts to establish a non-BJP government in Jharkhand.

“We are willing and ready to dislodge the BJP-led government. But the first step has to be taken by the five rebel ministers. Let them decide. We will not disappoint the people of Jharkhand. This fascist government must go,” JMM president Sibu Soren said.

The extremely fluid political situation could now take any shape, including the survival or fall of the Marandi government, establishment of an alternative government in the state and even dissolution of the Assembly. The dissidents have timed their move well because the House will be in session from tomorrow.

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