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Ministers ground flight to Delhi

Ranchi, March 2: Two ministers of the just-elected Shibu Soren government today made an abortive bid to detain a plane carrying BJP and JD(U) legislators to New Delhi.

Deputy chief minister Stephen Marandi and Bandhu Tirkey arrived at Birsa Munda Airport around 7.15 pm with a posse of policemen and ordered airport officials to stop a 50-seater Deccan Aviation plane, which was preparing to take off. They were accompanied by Ranchi senior superintendent of police Anurag Gupta, and city superintendent Suman Gupta.

The plane had landed here around 5 pm with BJP leaders S.S. Ahluwalia and Ravi Shankar Prasad. The newly elected legislators of the NDA began assembling at the airport soon thereafter, to be flown in the plane to Delhi for a meeting with the President. The plane, Prasad informed, was to take off around 7 pm. The ministers arrived minutes after the MLAs boarded the plane. Marandi, just made deputy chief minister, said he had reports that two legislators, Harinarayan Rai and Ainosh Ekka, had been kidnapped and were being forcibly taken to Delhi. An FIR had also been lodged by the relatives of the two legislators, he informed.

Puzzled airport staff were forced by the police to drive a jeep up to the plane and block its way on the tarmac. While the airport staff argued their inability to detain the plane, which had been given permission to take off, the police cordoned off the area.

After half-an-hour, Ahluwalia, Prasad and the newly elected legislator from Jamshedpur (West), Saryu Rai, emerged from the plane after being told by the pilot that police had stopped him from taking off.

A heated exchange followed. Marandi, however, remained seated in his car outside while Tirkey also quietly walked away. Police officers informed the BJP leaders they had been ordered by the DGP to search the plane for the two kidnapped MLAs.

The agitated BJP leaders asked them if they had checked the passengers' list first. They had not. When the passengers' list was produced, the names of the two legislators were not found. The pilot and the airport staff refused to allow policemen to search the plane. The aircraft eventually took off around 9 pm.

The ministers also left, saying the elusive legislators could be travelling on Rajdhani Express. 'Never mind,' said Tirkey, 'we will take steps to stop and search the Rajdhani Express too.'

The plane finally landed in Delhi around 11.20 with 33 people on board.

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