Arjun Munda makes his way with the help of a walker to cast his vote in the Assembly on Thursday. (Prashant Mitra)
Ranchi, July 19: An uneasy tension within ruling allies was palpable during voting for the presidential elections today with the BJP and its partners, the JMM and the Ajsu, ensuring their leaders came in groups and at separate time-slots so as not be embarrassed by each others presence.
BJP MLAs led by chief minister Arjun Munda started arriving in the Assembly around 11.10am. It was only after they left by 12 noon that JMM MLAs, led by Hemant Soren, began trooping in around 12.40pm to vote, followed by Ajsu MLAs an hour later.
Congress MLAs Rajendra Prasad Singh and Sarafraz Ahmad started the proceedings at 10am. And by 11am, at least nine other party MLAs had cast their vote. They were followed by RJD MLAs, including Annapurna Devi and Sanjay Yadav. Thereafter, JVM MLAs, led by legislature party leader Pradeep Yadav, cast their votes.
JVM MLAs also took pains not to be seen in the vicinity of Congress leaders, their one-time allies. “We cast our votes around 11.30am and rushed back to our party headquarters where we had lunch,” said Yadav.
In all, 80 of 81 MLAs exercised their franchise while CPI (ML) MLA Vinod Singh abstained. But the choice had been made.
The JMM, Ajsu and JD(U), all members of the ruling coalition with the BJP, broke rank and voted for UPA nominee Pranab Mukherjee. Chaibasa MP Madhu Koda and Independent MLAs also voted for him.
Munda came in a Toyota Corolla Altis, the first time he stepped in to the Assembly after the May 9 helicopter crash. He got off the car and used a walker to reach the polling station on ramps that had been set up at the entrances specifically for him.
After voting, he spent about half an hour in his official chamber, steering clear of any political discussion. Instead, he spoke of Rajesh Khanna and Dara Singh, two screen icons the nation lost in quick succession.
“Rajesh Khanna was the biggest star of his time. I am a huge fan. He gave new dimension to romantic films. In fact, I have seen many of his films repeatedly,” he said.
It was left to BJP MLA Raghubar Das, who cast his vote around 10.45am before the others in the party, to question the JMM-Ajsu “motive” behind supporting Mukherjee.
“Narrow party politics and irresponsible behaviour on the part of the coalition partners have created political uncertainty and tension in the ruling dispensation,” he claimed, referring to the JMM and Ajsu’s surprise decision to not support P.A.Sangma, a tribal leader from the north-east.
Das dared JMM chief Shibu Soren and JVM leader Babulal Marandi to name a non-tribal as chief minister of Jharkhand if the “tribal plank” wasn’t an issue in the presidential elections.
“Marandi,” he said, “should then name Pradeep Yadav as his chief ministerial candidate if he really favours a non-tribal chief minister.”
Most of the leaders had voted by 2pm. The two JD(U) MLAs, Raja Peter and Sudha Chaudhary, were the last to vote around 3pm.
Interestingly, JMM leaders, including deputy chief minister Hemant Soren, who arrived after the BJP MLAs left, spent time with Congress leaders and stayed on till 2pm.
The JMM took no pains to deny Das’s assertion that all was not well within the coalition. “We must admit that differences have cropped up within the coalition on several issues and BJP leaders should make statements responsibly,” said JMM central general secretary Supriyo Bhattacharya.
Hemant said partners in government should understand each other and avoid making provocative comments which weren’t “healthy for the coalition”.
Six Ajsu MLAs, including deputy chief minister Sudesh Mahto, arrived at 1.40pm and also stayed for sometime with Congress and RJD MLAs. “Coalition partners should try to sort out issues at a proper platform and not air views publicly,” Mahto said.
By the time everyone had voted, Congress MLAs were celebrating. “This is an indication that the JMM and Ajsu aren’t happy with the BJP,” said Saurabh Narayan Singh.