The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Small is mighty in power stakes
- Independents and lesser parties call shots in numbers scramble
NDA supporters throng the Morabadi ground in Ranchi to celebrate the return of the Arjun Munda government. Picture by Prashant Mitra

Ranchi, March 12: One of the Independent legislators, now a minister in the second government headed by Arjun Munda, spent the night of February 28 in a city hotel where Shibu Soren and his trusted lieutenants had been put up. The next day, the same legislator accompanied an NDA delegation to Raj Bhavan.

Another Independent legislator, again a minister in the new cabinet, was in another hotel on March 9, holding discussions with Congress leaders. The day after, he was sitting with the NDA in the Vidhan Sabha. It does not require too much intelligence to conclude that that both the UPA and NDA have been held to ransom by half a dozen legislators in the state, either Independents or those representing smaller parties.

Ideology and principles obviously meant little to them, each one of whom declared ad infinitum that their decision was motivated solely by the desire to develop Jharkhand. Both the governments headed by Shibu Soren and Munda, installed within a space of 10 days, have aptly been described as 'government for the MLAs, by the MLAs and of the MLAs'. It is hardly a coincidence that Soren had to fall back on Stephen Marandi as his second-in-command while Munda has sworn in Sudesh Mahto as the second most powerful minister though neither belong to either the JMM or the BJP.

That is not all. While Soren was forced to kiss and embrace Marandi, after a bitter campaign, Munda has been forced to swallow his pride and include Madhu Koda in the ministry. Munda had not only denied Koda a party ticket but also campaigned vigorously against him.

Both rebels won their polls and have presumably extracted their pound of flesh. Nor is it a coincidence that while the Soren government administered oath of office to six ministers besides the chief ministers, Munda's second coming included all the five Independent legislators who enabled the NDA to claim a razor-thin majority in the Assembly.

The Soren government did not include a single MLA belonging to either the JMM or the Congress, which together have 25 MLAs in the House. Similarly, the Munda government does not have a single member from either the BJP or JD(U), which together have a strength of 36 members in the Assembly.

Such contradictions and lack of logic raise serious doubts about the longevity of the Munda government. Soren fell in less than 10 days and while Munda might last longer, he must be reconciled to a spell of President's rule sooner rather than later.

Munda also sprang a surprise by including one of Soren's ministers, Kamlesh Singh, in his cabinet. The solitary NCP member of the Assembly had taken oath of office under Soren on March 2 and was allotted the portfolio of water resources. But thereafter he must have suffered the pangs of his 'inner voice' or had second thoughts or, in all likelihood, was won over by the NDA's promise of 'development'. He was hospitalised yesterday and put in the intensive care unit of a city hospital. Union minister Subodh Kant Sahay camped at the hospital yesterday for five hours, trying to persuade him to reach the Assembly. An ambulance was kept ready and Sahay apparently pleaded with the minister's wife to sign the risk bond so that the hospital could release the 'minister'. According to eyewitness accounts, she would break into tears everytime and wail that her husband could collapse on the way.

Raj Bhavan sources confirmed today that Singh's name figured on Munda's list of ministers and that the oath would be administered 'separately' to him. He could secure a letter from NCP chief Sharad Pawar, directing him to support the NDA, which appears unlikely the party's given that the party is a part of the UPA. Even if Singh is disqualified, the sources pointed out, he would still be able to continue as minister for the next six months. Another minister, Enos Ekka, faces a similar situation. Both camps have been 'unofficially' levelling serious allegations of horse-trading at each other.

A sum of Rs 5 crore, a Qualis and a flat, whisper UPA leaders, is the price paid by rivals for switching sides. A ministerial berth and Rs 2 crore, allege NDA leaders, is what the Congress offered as inducement. Predictably, none of them would say this on record or produce any evidence. For the time being, therefore, the Independent legislators will have to be given benefit of doubt and their 'call of conscience' accepted at face value. Both alliances have set a dubious benchmark in the last fortnight and Jharkhand, rather than Bihar, will for some time be the reference point for political wheeling and dealings.

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