Ranchi, July 30: At 37, he is among the youngest chief ministers in the country, and given the rumblings against him within his own party, Arjun Munda could well be Abhimanyu in Jharkhand. Foisted by the BJP high command, the former Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader and a contractor finds himself cornered, fighting a lone battle for survival with his back to the wall. BJP old-timers are baying for his blood; former chief minister Babulal Marandi and his supporters are determined to discredit him; his ministers, knowing fully well that the chief minister’s hands are tied, have been defiant and even contemptuous while the bureaucracy, finding him weak and vacillating, appears to have given up on him.
The chief minister’s immediate problem is to tide over the Assembly session in September and weather organisational elections within the BJP, which culminates in the election of a state president, also in September. Enjoying a razor-thin majority in the Assembly, his task is cut out. Munda evidently cannot afford to take strong measures and cut down to size some of his most corrupt and rebellious ministers till the Assembly session and the organisational elections are over.
Babulal Marandi, still smarting at being ousted from the chief minister’s chair, has been busy attending even block-level meetings in Jharkhand, which is rare for a national vice-president. Officially, he is in charge of Chhattisgarh, but though the elections in that state are round the corner, Marandi has spent very little time there, instead consolidating his strength in Jharkhand.
When he got the governor to release his book earlier this month, the chief minister and his loyalists were conspicuous by their absence. Later, they explained that they had not been invited to the function at all. The BJP central leadership may frown on Marandi’s activities but is helpless in restraining his group, which has been taking potshots at the chief minister.
Marandi enjoys the support of a large section of the BJP in Jharkhand, primarily because he has been a long-standing RSS activist and is familiar to the BJP old guard as well as the traders and businessmen who have been the party’s pillars. Munda, in comparison, is not only young and ‘inexperienced’ but is deemed to be an ‘outsider’ within the party.
Not enjoying the kind of access they had to Marandi, BJP leaders like Devdas Apte, a veteran RSS leader in the region, Ajay Maroo , MP, and Gulshan Ajmani have closed ranks and are known to be firing salvos at the chief minister with the help of several ministers. Their public stand is that Munda has failed to provide good governance and that all work has come to a standstill.
The chief minister’s camp claims , on the other hand, that it was precisely because he is firm in standing up to dubious deeds that he is being accused of dancing to the tune of the bureaucracy. “The poor man can neither open his mouth or expose these people,” claimed one of his camp followers, “nor can he afford to allow them to have their way.” It is a case of heads he loses, and tails his rivals win. If the chief minister clears the files and endorses the dubious decisions, he would immediately be hounded by the same lobby which now blames him for inaction and for sitting over files, he explained.
The chief minister’s detractors naturally do not think him to be quite as innocent. The chief minister and his men, they point out, are as culpable and have been busy minting money. The chief minister himself, they allege, has not only got a palatial house built in his village but has also been accepting hospitality of several dubious people and went all the way to Bangalore to get his son into a school there.
The result of all this has been a lame-duck chief minister and a political drift for which the state is already paying a heavy price. BJP circles are agog with speculation that the party, too, will pay a price at the hustings. The only option before the party, they feel, is to impose President’s rule for a short period of time and then go for polls along with the general elections — with Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s public image used as a trump card.
The clock is clearly ticking for Munda and there are but two possibilities. He either stands firm, restores a semblance of order, deals with indiscipline and ensures good governance; or he can allow himself to be hedged from all sides and get swept away.