| Madhu Koda garlands a photograph of Sushanto Sengupta at Nirsa in Dhanbad. Picture by Gautam Dey
Oct. 5: Madhu Koda’s maiden visit to the Santhal Pargana today was marked by an ebullient Shibu Soren stealing his show. It was Soren all the way as he silenced the chief minister, fielded most of the questions at the CM’s press conference and virtually conducted the flood review meeting with officials.
While Soren arrived at Dumka in a chartered plane with the chief minister, son Hemant and his PA were ferried by a Coal India plane. Jharkhand Mukti Morcha workers and Soren supporters went berserk at the airstrip as well as the Raj Bhavan, where virtually the mob ruled. Belated action by securitymen led to Congress and RJD workers getting stranded outside with JMM workers having snacks inside the Raj Bhavan.
Soren rebuked inquisitive newspersons quizzing Koda on ministry formation. “It is not your duty to make Stephen a Speaker or a minister,” he admonished before adding, “wait till October 7 and everything will be clear”. Later at the Ranchi airport he quipped, “Stephen babu is with us.”
But Stephen babu refused to accompany Koda and Soren to Bhognadih to pay tributes to the Santhal martyrs. Nor did he accompany the duo to a friendly football match. It was indicative of the chaotic style of functioning of the UPA government, when Koda cancelled his trip to Bhognadih and flew off to Nirsa while Soren went off to the football match. “I was not informed of the programme in advance,” said Stephen babu, “so, why should I accompany them'”
Confusion prevailed in UPA ranks as word spread that Stephen babu has refused to settle on anything other than the Speaker’s chair. Bandhu Tirkey and Bhanu Pratap Sahi tried to persuade him in vain. However, there is widespread speculation that Stephen babu might reconsider if, “he is given the home and finance ministry, along with the charge of the personnel department”. He is back in the state capital on Friday.
The Opposition pounced on the opportunity to castigate the government. Said BJP leader Sharmila Soren: “They could use the plane to fly in Hemant Soren and the JMM chief had the time to kick off a football match, but none of them had the time to visit flood-affected Sahebganj or Pakur.”
Koda, however, admitted that floods had affected 3.88 lakh people in Santhal Pargana, with nearly 5,000 people still living in relief camps. As many as 16 lives have been lost and crop and property losses have run into several crores of rupees, he said. Koda also threatened to take stern action against officials if middlemen or contractors are involved in relief work.
Meanwhile, UPA leaders continued to speak in different voices on formation of the ministry. RJD leader Gautam Sagar Rana told the media that the legislators are in favour of joining the ministry so that they could do some constructive work. They will attend the party’s national executive meeting at Delhi on October 8, he said, and allow Lalu Prasad to take a final decision.
But RJD legislator Annapurna Devi declared that there has been no change in the party’s decision to extend support to the government from outside. The indecision in the RJD appears to have delayed Koda’s plans to expand the ministry this week.