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Marandi wants Sangma as vice-president, firm on Pranab

Ranchi, July 1: Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM) chief Babulal Marandi today defended his decision to support Pranab Mukherjee as presidential candidate instead of being swayed by the “tribal card” played by P.A. Sangma.

“I have always advocated that the high office of President or Prime Minister should be decided by the people’s choice and not handpicked by a few leaders. So, when various surveys rated Mukherjee as the second choice of the people after A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the latter declined to contest, and I announced my party’s choice,” he told The Telegraph.

Marandi, who parted ways with BJP in 2006, wants JVM to replace JMM as a regional party espousing the tribal cause, particularly in Santhal Pargana.

“Sangma might be a tribal, but he was not the popular choice as Mukherjee was,” Marandi said, adding that the former Lok Sabha Speaker should be considered for the vice president’s post. Marandi, incidentally, is embarking on a 48-hours dharna in support of tribal students in Dumka tomorrow.

Meanwhile, JMM chief Shibu Soren, who has always espoused the tribal cause, is still in a dilemma over extending support to Mukherjee or stand by Sangma. Similar is the situation of Ajsu’s Sudesh Mahto. JMM leader and deputy chief minister Hemant Soren was in Delhi today to meet various leaders with regard to the presidential elections.

Marandi scoffed at the parleys and said the JMM was bargaining with both Congress and BJP before deciding who to lend support to.

He, however, made it clear that his support to Mukherjee should not be seen as a conciliatory move towards estranged ally Congress. The JVM enjoys the strength of 11 MLAs and two MPs.

“Shiv Sena and JD(U) are also supporting Mukherjee. Does it mean that they will join the Congress fold? Both the Congress as well as BJP is using politics as a means to earn money,” he claimed.

Marandi demanded direct elections for selecting candidates who will hold high offices like that of Prime Minister, President and chief minister or he said bigger states should be split to ensure equal representation of every state in Parliament.

“Under the existing system, the chief ministers of bigger states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Tamil Nadu are dictating terms on who would be the Prime Minister or the President of the country, leaving the smaller states with no say,” he added.

According to him, some chief ministers were playing big brothers while installing the government at the Centre.

Meanwhile, the former chief minister is staging a 48-hours protest in Dumka, the second capital of the state, from tomorrow to “expose” the state government, which he alleged was meting out a raw deal to tribals and other underprivileged students.

“The BJP-led government, particularly the JMM, swears by tribals, and yet the condition of some 355 hostels meant for tribals, SCs and minorities, run by the welfare department are in a pathetic condition,” he pointed out.

Marandi said around 111 hostels are under construction for years with the government turning a blind eye to their condition. A few of these schools do not have toilets, proper power supply, drinking water or utensils. Some hostels meant for girls don’t have any boundary walls,” he added.

The former chief minister said development does not mean only quality roads. “Rather there should be perceptible change in the living standards of people,” he signed off.