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JMM makes a grab for BJP’s chair

Ranchi/New Delhi, Jan. 7: Shibu Soren’s Jharkhand Mukti Morcha today decided to withdraw support to the BJP-led state government, acting on a threat it had been holding out to pressure chief minister Arjun Munda into handing over the reins to a JMM leader.

If the 18-member JMM finally chooses to walk out, the Munda-led coalition — the AJSU is the third key partner — will be reduced to a minority with 29 legislators in the 82-member House.

BJP leaders in Delhi appeared unfazed and in no mood to replace Munda. They said the state party, which also has 18 MLAs, was ready to face a floor test in the House and, if it couldn’t marshal the numbers, was prepared to see either an alternative formation or President’s rule.

In Ranchi, political uncertainty returned after two years of relative stability when Soren’s son, deputy chief minister Hemant Soren, said his father had been “asked by the party” to meet the governor tomorrow.

“Tomorrow, we will go to Raj Bhavan to hand over the letter withdrawing our support,” Soren confirmed.

Hemant said some leaders in the BJP had been attacking the JMM chief unnecessarily. “We cannot compromise on the honour of our party chief when he is maligned by leaders of a coalition partner,” Hemant said, emerging from a four-hour meeting of the JMM executive committee. “A coalition government cannot run like this. Therefore, we have decided to withdraw support.”

The trigger for the crisis appeared to be the BJP’s refusal to honour a “non-existent” agreement on chief minister by rotation. “We will not countenance undue pressure from anybody. The JMM is talking about an agreement that is non-existent. That agreement existed when we previously shared power with them. But in the second spell of the coalition, no such pact was signed,” said a top BJP source privy to political developments in Jharkhand.

“Our leadership is not in the mood to change Munda even with another BJP nominee…. We don’t mind foregoing power and going in for another election.”

The Jharkhand crisis, nearly 28 months after Munda assumed the reins after a spell of President’s rule, is the latest for the BJP since its disgruntled Karnataka stalwart B.S. Yeddyurappa broke away to float his own outfit.

The differences between the JMM and the BJP had begun to surface after Soren’s party supported the Congress-led UPA in Parliament on retail FDI. While Soren abstained, JMM MP Kameshwar Baitha voted in favour of the UPA. On December 7, the day of the Rajya Sabha vote, the JMM abstained.

This morning, chief minister Munda, accompanied by state BJP chief Dineshanand Goswami and minister Baidyanath Ram, met Soren at his residence. But they couldn’t placate the JMM leader whose party had put out a seven-point charter of demands.

On the top of the list, which included identification of local natives on the basis of 1932 land records to help them get jobs, was the demand to hand over the chief minister’s chair for the remainder of the government’s term till December 2014.

But a BJP source in Delhi said the party wouldn’t give in to Soren’s demands. “We are told that many of their (JMM) MLAs are against the decision (to withdraw support). So there is a hope that if there is a floor test, they might vote against the party whip. Or the JMM can split before that. The move by the Sorens is dictated by personal ego and not driven by the interest of the JMM.”

Shortly after news of the JMM’s decision came in from Ranchi, BJP general secretary Dharmendra Pradhan, who minds Jharkhand, met party chief Nitin Gadkari at his residence. Former BJP president Rajnath Singh, who was in Lucknow today, is expected to reach Delhi shortly. Rajnath had looked after Jharkhand in the past and was instrumental, along with Gadkari, in installing Munda as chief minister.

Sources claimed the leaders were “expecting” such a response from the JMM because the Sorens had been “blowing hot” for the past few days.

A source from the Jharkhand BJP, however, said despite Delhi’s “bravado”, party’s MLAs and MPs were not happy with the prospect of losing power.

The state BJP held two rounds of meetings today in Ranchi. A core committee meeting is scheduled for tomorrow morning in the Jharkhand capital.