Soren rushes to take the plunge

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By OUR BUREAU in Ranchi
  • Published 17.08.08

Ranchi, Aug. 17: Shibu Soren-led Jharkhand Mukti Morcha today acted on its threat and withdrew support to the 23-month-old Madhu Koda government, plunging the state into yet another bout of political uncertainty.

A 25-member delegation led by party chief Shibu Soren handed over a letter withdrawing support to Governor Syed Sibtey Razi this evening and urged him to explore the possibility of forming an alternative government. The three JMM ministers — Sudhir Mahto, Dulal Bhuiyan and Nalin Soren — also submitted their resignations to the Governor.

On his part, the Governor, assured the JMM delegation that he would maintain constitutional propriety while acting on the party’s letter.

The JMM’s decisive action came after Soren realised he did not have the support of 41 MLAs in the 81-member House.

JMM could manage 33 on its side with the both the Congress and the RJD promising support to Soren in his bid to become chief minister (see chart).

But the Congress and the RJD’s support came with the rider that Soren would have to personally talk to the Independents for their support.

Clearly, the JMM chief’s efforts came a cropper and he was unable to enlist the support of the nine Independent ministers, including that of chief minister Madhu Koda, that was crucial for government formation.

Incidentally, the JMM chose a private banquet hall to hold meetings of its legislature party and then the central committee today, before officially announcing its decision to call off its ties with the Koda government.

Soren’s decision had the support of all 17 MLAs, four MPs and the JMM central committee.

Early this morning, health minister Bhanu Pratap Sahi, the spokesman for the Independent ministers, met Soren along with HRD minister Bandhu Tirkey and tried to prevail upon him to review his stand. But Soren was adamant.

By the evening, once the JMM’s decision became public, partymen hit the streets in large numbers to celebrate what they thought was the stepping stone for their leader to become chief minister.

Later, Soren told reporters he was left with no option but to withdraw support from the Koda government. However, he refrained from commenting on his future course of action, especially about his stand on the UPA’s promise of providing JMM with two berths in the Union Cabinet. “Right now, I am restricting myself to the interests of the state,” he said.

Lest he be misunderstood as “power hungry”, Soren said he took the “extreme step” in the light of deteriorating law and order and the spurt in Naxalite t violence in the state.

“Being a chief minister is not my immediate concern. In this state, something or the other like loots and murders continue to happen everyday. Being of service to the people was more important,” he said.

In contrast, chief minister Koda, who attended a scheduled official function in the morning, went into a huddle with the Independent ministers, including Bandhu Tirkey. They remained incommunicado till late in the evening.

The group of minsiters — now part of minority government — weighed their options. But all were clearly miffed at Soren for having inflicted this crisis on the government and the state. One thought was that Koda could resign to pave the way for President’s Rule. But till reports last came in, no final decision was taken.

Trying to keep up the pressure on the chief minister, deputy chief minister Sudhir Mahto of the JMM, maintained today’s decision was unanimous.

“We have urged the Governor to use his constitutional authority to explore the formation of an alternative government,” he said.

He said they were trying to form the government as they were in touch with the Independents. “We will not allow to President’s Rule here. The situation will be clear in a couple of days,” he said. Mahto claimed they were forced to withdraw support after Koda refused to quit even though the UPA leadership wanted him to.

But that wasn’t the message from the Congress camp. Party spokesman Manish Tiwary said the party keeping a watch on things. “The situation is evolving. We are committed to secularism. So, we have no hesitation to extend our support if Soren is able to get the numbers,” he said.

Tiwary, however, was evasive when asked about possibility of President’s Rule. “We will cross the bridge when we come to it,” he said.

The BJP on the other hand indicated it was not interested in forming a government. Opposition leader Arjun Munda went ahead with his personal pre-scheduled visit to the US, while the party’s vice-president Yashwant Sinha demanded immediate dismissal of the Koda government.

He called for fresh elections under President’s Rule.

This is the fourth time that Jharkhand was in the grip of a political crisis since the 2005 Assembly elections. Though Soren was installed as chief minister soon after, he could not hold on to this seat as the numbers weren’t on his side.

Arjun Munda replaced him. Again, Munda was dethroned in 2006 only to be replaced by Koda in September 2006.