Ranchi/New Delhi, Sept. 3: The Arjun Munda government tonight battled its worst political crisis as three ministers propping it up went “underground” amid speculation that they had decided to switch sides.
Sources said the trio — Madhu Koda, Anosh Ekka and Harinarayan Rai — was camping in New Delhi, but in spite of repeated attempts, none of them could be contacted.
The first signs of the political crisis came to the fore when chief minister Munda cancelled his programme in Deogarh and also failed to turn up at an eye-grafting function. That the crisis was serious was indicated when Munda told Speaker Inder Singh Namdhari, who was in London en route to Nigeria, to return.
Sources said the three ministers, part of the Group of Five whose support is crucial for the government’s survival, met senior UPA leaders, including JMM chief Shibu Soren and RJD boss Lalu Prasad, in New Delhi. A meeting of the UPA was slated for 11 pm in Delhi.
A senior RJD leader said the UPA had decided to accept as chief minister Koda, the mines and geology minister who has been involved in a spat with home minister Sudesh Mahto over a road contract in West Singhbhum. Mahto, who is said to have the backing of Munda, and C.P. Choudhary are the other two of the G5.
If the three resign, the NDA’s strength would be reduced to 39 in the House of 81.
Congress sources said Koda is learnt to have set the condition that his government would remain in power for “at least a year”.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi has been apprised of the developments. But the 2005 fiasco, when Soren had to quit as he could not cobble together a majority, fresh on her mind, she has reportedly asked the UPA leaders to get a list of 42 MLAs supporting the coalition by September 5.
The RJD leader claimed the three ministers would submit their resignation in a “day or two”. The oust-Munda “operation”, he informed, was continuing for the last four months.
According to sources, parleys to form an alternative government were on at the Delhi farmhouse of former Congress MP R.K. Anand.
“Under the formula, seven Independent and five RJD legislators will form the government. The JMM and the Congress will extend support from outside,” the RJD source said.
Anand, however, denied hosting any such meeting.
Munda, sources said, had also stepped up efforts to engineer a split in the 17-member JMM to save his government. He was said to be “banking” on leader of Opposition in the Assembly Sudhir Mahto, who, when asked about the “crisis”, said he did not know anything and was getting in touch with Soren for information.
Soren, fearing the attempt to wean away his MLAs, has summoned all the legislators to Delhi.
The sources said the NDA was also trying to retain Ekka, who is facing disqualification proceedings under the anti-defection law, by gently reminding him of the “consequences” of his decision to pull out.
Thereafter, the sources said, Ekka got in touch with Munda and assured him that he would rush back to Ranchi at the earliest. Till late tonight, it was not known if Ekka was back in Ranchi.
Namdhari was asked to return to take a decision on Ekka, whose case is pending with him.
Namdhari, however, said over phone from London that he was cutting short his visit on the advice of doctors.
The Speaker said both he and his wife were indisposed. Under his travel plan, he was supposed to attend a meeting of parliamentarians in Nigeria and return to Ranchi on September 12.
A senior BJP legislator said the three ministers have no choice now but to quit.
“If Namdhari takes any decision on Ekka at this juncture, he will give birth to another controversy on the lines that he had generated during the downfall of Babulal Marandi,” he said.
Sources in Delhi said the high command had decided not to intervene and instead left it to Munda to tackle the situation.
“If Munda can save his government, it’s fine. Otherwise, we are prepared to face a mid-term poll,” said a source.