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Soren gets long session before vote

Ranchi/Jaipur, March 5: The NDA today stayed away from a meeting convened by governor Syed Sibtey Razi and left an open goal for the United Progressive Alliance to score.

Chief minister Shibu Soren declared that the governor had convened the Assembly on March 10 and had desired that the trust vote be carried out by March 15.

The NDA cried foul and BJP leader Rajnath Singh alleged that the governor had allowed a long six-day session to facilitate horse-trading. 'He will not rest till he installs a UPA government in the state,' Singh said.

The BJP leader pointed out that the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, with over 400 members, takes two days to administer the oath. Jharkhand, with only 81 members, is also taking the same number of days, he complained.

Soren, after a cabinet meeting in Ranchi, specified that while the first two days of the session had been set aside for the oath, the next two days will be 'holidays on account of Saturday and Sunday'.

The fifth day, Monday, he said, had been fixed for the governor's address and the vote of confidence will take place on the sixth day, March 15. The NDA protested against the governor's address, too, and wondered how Razi could possibly speak on policies of a government that is yet to win the confidence of the House.

The cabinet recommended the name of a Congress legislator, Pradeep Balmuchu, as pro tem Speaker.

Sensing the need to have some presence in Jharkhand, the NDA on Saturday evening decided to fly back to Ranchi former chief minister Arjun Munda and Saryu Rai. Babulal Marandi had earlier arrived in Ranchi in the same flight which brought back Razi from New Delhi. While slogan-shouting BJP supporters, armed with eggs and tomatoes, staged a black-flag demonstration at the airport, the governor was welcomed with traditional song and dances organised by UPA supporters.

The Congress-led coalition stepped up its attempts to secure the majority and indicated that a CBI inquiry could be recommended against former roads construction minister Sudesh Mahto.

Demonstrations were organised in several places to demand that Jharkhand Party legislator from Kolebira, Enos Ekka, should return to Ranchi and give up his support of the NDA. Shibu Soren reiterated that Ekka and other Independent legislators had been 'abducted' by the NDA.

In a curious turn, Ekka told The Telegraph that he was ready to support the Congress-led combine if his demands are met. Speaking from a resort in Rajasthan, where he has been put up by the NDA, Ekka said that if the Congress expels the former legislator from Kolebira, Theodore Kiro, he could consider supporting the government.

He also agreed that he is in touch with the Congress legislator from Simdega, Niel Tirkey, who is 'like an elder brother' to him.

But Forward Bloc legislator Bhanu Pratap Shahi said he had contested as a FB candidate only because he needed a symbol; and he did not feel obliged to follow the whip. Technically, he remains an independent and side with whichever alliance he likes, Shahi said.

Back in Jaipur, NDA legislators started the day with cricket and ended it with a football match against the hosts at the Sawai Man Singh stadium. Rajasthan sports minister Yunus Khan scored the solitary goal for the hosts while the legislators from Jharkhand scored thrice. 'We are getting into the habit of winning,' quipped Sudesh Mahto.

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