The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Muted date with Munda milestone

Ranchi, March 17: On Thursday, it is going to be a low-key, even sombre, first anniversary in office for Arjun Munda, the 37-year-old chief minister.

No celebrations are planned and no fresh announcements are expected in view of the model code of conduct in force. While there is quiet satisfaction in the chief minister’s camp over surviving the first year in office, there is no trace of euphoria, possibly because of the recognition that the second year is perhaps going to be tougher.

The chief minister’s media adviser, Harendra Kumar Singh, is at pains explaining why some bureaucrats and ministers are unhappy with Munda. Two IAS officers, A.K. Mishra and Mary Beena Kachchap, he points out, were removed or suspended because of non-performance. The chief minister, he concedes, loses his cool and often takes the officers to task.

Strangely, he also claims that the energy department had failed to use even 50 per cent of its budgetary allocation despite the chief minister’s “best efforts”. Who can blame the chief minister for losing his cool, he says. But soon he perks up and states: “Everybody who is performing is also happy with the CM.”

Munda’s biggest political challenge is to deliver the state to the BJP, which he joined a little over five years ago from the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, in the coming general elections. Even more important will be his ability to court the RSS and BJP old-timers who remain cold to him.

A senior BJP leader said: “Munda is trying to mould himself after Laloo Prasad Yadav and seeks to steamroller dissent and opposition. But BJP is a national party and party workers here would rather look up to central leaders than the chief minister. Munda has a long way to go before he establishes that he is indispensable to the party.”

An IPS officer, however, added a twist to the tale. “The CM till now has never called me to seek any favour. He also does not interfere with the working of deputy commissioners and police superintendents,” he said.

Significantly, Opposition leaders seem far more enamoured of Munda’s predecessor Babulal Marandi. JMM stalwart and leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, Stephen Marandi, grudgingly concedes that “as a person, Munda is okay”.

But he goes on to call Munda “a babe in politics” and declares: “This man is on a looting spree.”

The criticism leaves Munda loyalists grim but they stoically defend the track record of their leader. Munda took a decisive stand on the issue of the Tata lease renewal and ensured that MoUs worth Rs 20,000 crore were signed during the last one year. His government also paved the way for a private gold mine and persuaded US aluminium and energy giants, Techal Aluminium and Eastern Energy Ltd, to invest in the state, they point out.

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