New Delhi, March 11: After letting a crisis linger for days and putting his government's image on the line, the 'invisible' Prime Minister stepped in to ask Shibu Soren to immediately resign as chief minister of Jharkhand.
Following a late meeting of the cabinet committee on political affairs, the Centre announced that the governor had been asked to explore the possibility of forming an alternative government in Jharkhand where elections threw up a hung Assembly.
At midnight, governor Syed Sibtey Razi appointed Arjun Munda, leader of the National Democratic Alliance, chief minister after Soren handed in his resignation. He has to prove his majority by March 21.
Munda, who had first staked claim but was overlooked by the governor who had called United Progressive Alliance leader Soren instead, will now be sworn in tomorrow.
The decisions were taken apparently at the initiative of Manmohan Singh who found himself in an almighty mess ' in conflict with the Opposition that accused him and his government of playing dirty and heading towards a possible confrontation with the Supreme Court.
After the hour-long meeting, home minister Shivraj Patil said: 'In view of this situation (in Jharkhand), the incumbent government should be asked to resign forthwith and the possibility of the formation of an alternative government should be explored expeditiously. The new government should be asked to seek a vote of confidence in the next three or four days.'
Patil, whose ministry's job it is to supervise governors, stressed that the Prime Minister and his government were 'determined to see the Constitution was implemented in letter and spirit'.
Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court-mandated trust vote could not be held in the Assembly as the temporary Speaker, P.K. Balmuchu, said he did not have the authority to conduct such an exercise. It was clearly a ploy by the Soren government to avoid a trial of strength since MLAs from his side raised the objection to Balmuchu holding the vote.
Only a few days ago, the temporary Speaker in Goa had presided over a similar vote which the UPA won, though the exercise was later overruled from Delhi by declaring President's rule.
Today's decision is the second time in a short period the government has had to scramble to save face because of the role played by governors it appointed itself.
The Prime Minister, who was described as 'invisible' by BJP leader L.K. Advani for allegedly not being conversant with the controversial developments in Jharkhand and Goa where the BJP government was dismissed, was said to be upset at the happenings in the Assembly in Ranchi.
At a meeting with Left leaders Harkishen Singh Surjeet, Prakash Karat and Abani Roy earlier in the day, he is believed to have said the constitutional deadlock, resulting from the Speaker being unable to conduct the vote as instructed by the Supreme Court, had to be cracked. The Left leaders counselled him to do what he thought was 'right' after speaking to Laloo Prasad Yadav, who is part of the UPA in Jharkhand.
Laloo Prasad, too, had expressed disapproval of the Ranchi incident and said the court's order should have been followed.
The government will not go in for a confrontation with the judiciary by authoring a presidential reference on the Supreme Court order advancing the date of the test of strength in Jharkhand, which has been interpreted in political circles as interference in the functions of the legislature.
Somnath Chatterjee, the Lok Sabha Speaker, had yesterday proposed at an all-party meeting that the option of a presidential reference should be explored to 'restore the constitutional balance'.
Top Congress leaders, including Sonia Gandhi, met at the Prime Minister's residence in the morning. Sources said they concluded that instead of making a presidential reference through the Centre, the initiative could be taken by Razi or Balmuchu.
The party felt that the executive and legislative authorities concerned should seek clarification from the court if its order in the Jharkhand case had exceeded the authority of the judiciary.