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CM weathers berth storm

Ranchi, March 29: Chief minister Arjun Munda today did a deft balancing act including two members each from the BJP and JD(U) in his cabinet, but could not prevent the simmering tension over berth allocation from erupting at the Raj Bhavan.

Munda sprang a surprise by inducting five ministers today, leaving one slot vacant in his council, which can have a maximum of 12 members.

As expected, Kamlesh Singh of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) was sworn in, the second time in less than a month. Singh had taken oath along with Shibu Soren on March 2, when the UPA was invited to form the government. But he switched allegiances soon after, staying away from the House on account of 'poor' health.

The BJP, which had been clamouring for four berths, had to be satisfied with two: state unit chief Raghubar Das and Poraiyahat MLA Pradeep Yadav making it to the council. The JD(U), which had threatened to provide outside support if it was not given at least two slots, had its way with Ramesh Singh Munda, a minister in the previous NDA regime as well, and Radha Krishna Kishore, being sworn in.

They will join the Group of Five ' Sudesh Mahto, Enos Ekka, Harinarayan Rai, Madhu Koda and C.P. Choudhary ' who had taken oath along with Munda on March 12.

The inclusion of Kishore, believed to be close to Speaker Inder Singh Namdhari, triggered howls of protest from a section of JD(U) workers from Dhanbad, who wanted Baghmara legislator Jaleshwar Mahto to get a berth as well. They vent their ire on Namdhari, blaming him for Mahto's exclusion.

Police and special task force jawans had to use 'mild force' to drive away the angry Dal supporters who began raising slogans against Namdhari as soon as the national anthem was over at the end of the ceremony. The workers forced their way into the enclosure where the dignitaries had gathered for the customary refreshments after the ceremony.

Governor Syed Sibtey Razi and first lady Chand Farhana had to be escorted out.

The swearing-in began 15 minutes behind schedule, signalling the hard-bargaining that went on till the last minute. The explanation offered was that there was a delay in sending the list of ministers to Raj Bhavan.

Munda left everyone guessing by keeping one slot vacant. 'The figure of 11 is auspicious. There were six members and the expansion was kept at 11 by inducting five more.

However, efforts were made to give representation to virtually every area of the state,' Munda said.

Namdhari said he had no hand in the selection. 'I had no role to play in the cabinet expansion nor did I make any recommendation to the chief minister. Everything was decided by the JD(U) high command. Whatever happened was unfortunate,' he said.

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