| Munda being offered cake by wife Meera in Ranchi on their 12th wedding anniversary on Sunday. Picture by Prashant Mitra
Ranchi, March 13: The Arjun Munda government faces its first trial in the Assembly tomorrow with the United Progressive Alliance, smarting from Friday's humiliation, deciding to contest the post of Speaker.
At a late night meeting of its legislators, the UPA spurned the BJP-led combine's overtures for a consensus on the Speaker and decided to field Annapurna Devi for the post. She is an MLA from Laloo Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).
Forced to bite the dust after the Assembly acrimony on Friday prevented the trust vote mandated by the Supreme Court, the UPA decided it could not wait for Tuesday's trial to take the battle to the NDA.
'The UPA has decided it will field Annapurna Devi for the election of Speaker,' said Stephen Marandi, who was chosen convener of the UPA coordination committee at the meeting tonight. He was deputy chief minister in the nine-day government of Shibu Soren, which went out on Friday.
The NDA has put forward the name of Janata Dal (United) leader Inder Singh Namdhari, who was Speaker for the better part of the previous House.
Soon after the swearing-in of pro tem (temporary) Speaker Karia Munda this morning, the BJP-led combine sent feelers to the UPA camp that they should back Namdhari 'in the best traditions of parliamentary democracy'.
But the UPA turned down the offer.
'If we agreed to a consensus choice, it would have meant accepting defeat even without putting up a fight. That would have been demoralising for our supporters,' said a UPA leader, who did not wish to be named.
The two camps are evenly matched. The NDA has the support of 40 MLAs, excluding the temporary Speaker, and the UPA claims the backing of an equal number of legislators. In case of a tie during the election tomorrow, the temporary Speaker can exercise his casting vote.
The NDA is banking on the casting vote not just tomorrow but even on Tuesday when it will face the vote of confidence.
Initially, the ruling alliance had decided to table the trust vote in the House tomorrow, but decided to carry out a change in the schedule and make it the day after though governor Syed Sibtey Razi had set a deadline of March 21 for Munda.
But sources in the NDA said it wants to go through the test as it does not want another round of horse-trading.
The Opposition alliance, however, is in a fix over Nationalist Congress Party MLA Kamlesh Singh, who has kept UPA managers guessing. Singh, who had taken oath along with Soren on March 2, was named a minister in the Raj Bhavan communique issued prior to Munda's swearing-in yesterday.
The legislator, who had got himself admitted in the ICU of Apollo Hospital an hour before the Assembly session on Friday, has not even taken oath as MLA.
Singh's silence has given rise to speculation that he could abstain during tomorrow's election of the Speaker as well as the trust vote. If he does so, the effective strength of the House will come down to 80 and the UPA will be down to 39. In that case, the NDA will win outright.
Efforts are on to ensure Singh does not stray. NCP leader Tariq Anwar today faxed a whip to the legislator asking him to vote for the UPA.
Supporters of the 'ailing' leader, however, said Singh would support the NDA 'to prevent President's rule in Jharkhand'.