The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Trust won, Delhi ring for berth bout

Ranchi, Sept. 20: Minutes after proving majority support in the Assembly, chief minister Madhu Koda announced that he, his three ministers and 38 other supporting MLAs would take a special flight to New Delhi tomorrow. Union coal minister Shibu Soren endorsed the plan. “Let us all go to Delhi,” exhorted the JMM chief, “where our share will be finalised.”

While Koda modestly said the trip is meant to seek blessings of Sonia Gandhi and Lalu Prasad, senior Congress leaders such as Ranchi MP Subodh Kant Sahay declared, more tactfully, that the ruling coalition would sit together in Delhi to finalise priorities. Koda, who has not been able to appoint even his own principal secretary so far, clearly has well-wishers in the national capital to guide him.

Koda today appeared hemmed in from all sides, with the JMM, Congress and RJD leaders speaking up for the new chief ministers. Soren not just shadowed him but also towered over him. The coal minister, who is chairman of the UPA steering committee in Jharkhand, was keen to demonstrate that he is taking his assignment seriously. He did so by steering the chief minister around and delivering a lecture to the legislators.

Back-seat driving by Delhi is something that Koda will have to get used to. Even the visit to the capital tomorrow, UPA leaders confided, is primarily meant to settle all contentious issues, including cabinet expansion, to reach a consensus on the next Speaker and also to discuss transfer and posting of key officials.

Sahay, the Union minister of state for food processing, was on the backfoot while blurting out: “We are not going to interfere with his routine business.” But UPA leaders conceded in private that for every slot there are more than two claimants. While the Congress would like to have one of its legislators as the next Speaker, Independent MLA Stephen Marandi is equally keen to get the job. With the precarious balance in the House, the UPA, as it is, enjoys a majority of only two and, therefore, the support of Stephen is crucial.

Cabinet expansion also remains a thorny issue with 24 MLAs belonging to the JMM and RJD eyeing the eight ministerial slots that are to be filled up. Only one out of three of these MLAs can become ministers and Koda has to find out a way of keeping the rest in good humour. The possibility of a chunk of RJD or JMM legislators jumping ship even before the next Assembly session is something that he cannot rule out either.

While he himself would like to retain the mines and geology portfolios that he held in the NDA government, Koda is far from certain whether he will eventually be allowed to do so. But the chief minister put up a brave face. “If my government collapses because of them,” he argued, “it will have far-reaching effects on national politics as well.”

The UPA, he said, has a political compulsion to let his government run smoothly. “I have no personal agenda and every issue will be discussed first in the coordination and steering committee meetings,” he reiterated. It remains to be seen if the arrangement actually works or leads to delays in decision-making.

A sombre-looking Koda believes that the violence in Gumla, in which nine people were killed, was a deliberate ploy to defame the government.

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