The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Soren becomes fall guy in numbers race
- UPA woos Independents with promise to keep out JMM chief

Ranchi/New Delhi, Feb. 28: With Laloo Yadav pulling the plug, Shibu Soren's dream of becoming the chief minister appears to have been dashed.

Congress leaders, in both Delhi and Ranchi, indicated that the UPA would make a bid to form a government under the leadership of a Congress nominee since neither RJD MLAs nor JMM rebels like Stephen Marandi have agreed to accept Soren's leadership.

Half-a-dozen Independent candidates, who won the elections, went underground amid hectic efforts by both the UPA and the NDA to rope them in. Rumours flew thick and fast and one of them, it was rumoured, had been flown to an unknown destination.

A fresh twist was provided by Stephen Marandi who reached the state capital and declared that Independent candidates could form a separate block for better bargaining.

NDA and UPA delegations called on Governor Syed Sibtey Razi and staked claim to an opportunity to prove their majority on the floor of the House. Both the delegations were asked to elect their legislature party leader first and then return with a list of MLAs supporting the respective leaders.

The BJP legislature party met during the day and elected Arjun Munda as their leader.

Babulal Marandi, who was believed to be in the race for the chair he had vacated for Munda, proposed that the chief minister should be allowed to lead the new legislature party. Thereafter, Karia Munda proposed Munda's name, which was supported by Raghubar Das, Ravindra Kumar Rai and Chhatru Mahto. But protests continued with a section of MLAs clamouring for Marandi's candidature.

On the other hand, it was not known when the UPA legislators would meet to elect the leader. The UPA delegation comprised members of the Congress and the RJD but did not include anyone from the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. The team, however, carried a letter from Soren, seeking an invitation to form the government. Similar letters were handed over on behalf of state Congress chief Sushila Kerketta and RJD legislator from Koderma, Annapurna Devi.

The numbers remained fluid on both sides. While the three MLAs of the Forward Bloc and the CPI(ML) are unlikely to support NDA's bid for power, the NDA is clearly banking on the support of former ministers Madhu Koda, Joba Manjhi and Sudesh Mahato, which would take its tally to 39.

The UPA, on the other hand, are banking on the support of two JMM rebels, including Stephen Marandi, who are likely to side with the alliance as long as Soren is not projected as the chief minister. With their support, the UPA could theoretically have the support of 38 MLAs.

While the predilection of these eight MLAs is relatively predictable, the key to the government appears to lie in the hands of the remaining four MLAs, including Bandhu Tirkey, who has won from Mandar, and Enos Ekka, who bagged the Kolebira seat.

The BJP flew in Venkaiah Naidu, Ananth Kumar and Sanjay Joshi to bolster the team of managers on the ground, headed by Rajnath Singh. The Congress high command has rushed Union water resources minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and former Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi as AICC observers to oversee the efforts to form an UPA government.

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