The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Berth battle in Delhi

March 24: Unable to expand his ministry today as indicated by him earlier, chief minister Arjun Munda flew to New Delhi for consultations.

Although almost two weeks have passed, he has not been able to distribute the portfolios either. But Munda put up a brave face and told reporters that the expansion would take place after Holi.

His departure for Delhi sparked off intense speculation since he had returned this week after camping in the capital for four days. The Munda camp, however, claimed that during his earlier visit he got little time to discuss his problems as events related to VAT and denial of US visa to Narendra Modi preoccupied the leadership.

Sources within the BJP, however, held that Munda was waiting for Raj Bhavan to notify the name of the Anglo-Indian member of the House. Although the recommendation was made to Raj Bhavan on March 16, the notification is still awaited, they pointed out. The nominated member would have bolstered the strength of the treasury benches in the Assembly, they pointed out.

In the event, Munda is unlikely to make any move till the Assembly is finally adjourned on March 29 as that will give him time to breathe.

Munda's problem was accentuated, sources say, by the JD(U) refusing to be satisfied with one ministerial berth and by the demands made by the group of five ministers, all of whom are either Independent MLAs or represent small parties. Once it was made clear that none of them would be given the responsibility of deputy chief minister, Sudesh Mahto, it is learnt, demanded the home department.

Insiders claim that Munda has no option but to re-organise the departments and give as little as possible to the 'outsiders'. He already faces discontent within his party since only three BJP legislators can be provided with ministerial berths. With the JD(U) insisting on two berths and the five 'outsiders' sitting pretty, Munda has just four more slots to fill besides himself. He has little option but to induct Kamlesh Singh of the Nationalist Congress Party, leaving just three slots for the single largest party in the Assembly with as many as 30 members.

BJP sources said Speaker Inder Singh Namdhari has queered the pitch by lobbying for the induction of Radhakrishna Kishore in place of one of the two ministerial aspirants cleared by the JD(U) central leadership.

Pulls and pressures within the party have also made life difficult for the chief minister. A strong lobby has been exerting pressure for the induction of Ravindra Rai, a Babulal Marandi loyalist. While Munda himself would prefer an MLA from Singhbhum to be included, he can scarcely ignore Marandi.

The tussle between Upendra Nath Das and Satyanand Bhokta, only one of whom can get in, also remains to be settled. The BJP camp claims that the induction of Raghuvar Das and Pradeep Yadav has been virtually finalised and therefore there is no justification for another BJP minister from Singhbhum.

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