Monday, February 11, 2008

Jharkhand’s future hangs in the balance

RANCHI, Feb. 10: Cracks have started appearing in Jharkhand's ruling coalition. The Congress, one of the key allies in the loosely-knit coalition headed by the Independent chief minister, Mr Madhu Koda, has upped the ante against the Koda government’s functioning and performance.
The differences, which were not evident till 21 January, came to the fore with the Simariya Assembly by-election in Chatra, held on 4 February. The polls were held after BJP legislator Upendra Nath Das died last year. Had things been normal, the bypoll would have hardly attracted anybody’s attention, except of the contesting candidates and the constituency’s voters.
But the Simariya by-election has turned out to be a deciding factor for the political future of Jharkhand.
First, the choice of candidates. During the initial stages of finalising a candidate, the CPI was the front-runner to choose and name Mr Ramchandra Ram as the party’s nominee. The move was so swift that one of the major allies of the UPA, the RJD was taken aback.
Alleging that there was no meeting of the UPA to decide on a consensus candidate, the party’s state wing picked Mr Yogendra Nath Baitha as its nominee for the bypoll. Then came hectic parleys between the CPI top brass and the RJD supremo, Mr Lalu Prasad. Finally, Mr Prasad conceded and decided to withdraw his party’s candidate from the contest and support the CPI candidate, instead. And all that, as Mr Prasad put it, “for the sake of the UPA”.
The result of this decision was startling. A sulking Mr Baitha decided to leave the RJD and contest the Simariya bypoll as an Independent candidate. The Congress, which was already in a mood to snap ties with the Jharkhand UPA, took a decisive move. The party lapped up Mr Baitha and named him as its official candidate to contest the Simariya bypoll.
The cracks have apparently widened and now the Congress is ready to take on one of its allies, the CPI. After the last day of withdrawal of nomination (21 January) the UPA in Jharkhand exists on paper only.
The Congress’ decision to contest the Simariya bypoll is in direct defiance of coalition principles, as another UPA ally, the CPI, is already in the fray. Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader Mr Shibu Soren is in a dilemma and so is Mr Madhu Koda ~ for whom to campaign in Simariya? In any case, they have to choose from one of the UPA allies.
The Congress' man in charge of Jharkhand affairs, Mr Ajoy Maken, has issued a 60-day ultimatum to Mr Koda to either perform or perish. He has laid down a 19-point charter of demands ranging from improvement of the law and order situation to rural employment and optimum utilisation of Central funds. Not a single meeting of the UPA took place since the coalition came to power and this has given the Congress ammunition to unleash a scathing attack on Mr Koda, it was alleged. The party waited for two months and its ultimatum passed off on 15 January. Two days later, on 17 January, at a huge rally in Dhanbad addressed by all party MLAs and MPs from the state including Mr Maken, the Congress minced no words in conveying its mood to withdraw support from the Koda government.
But, after a few days, Mr Maken chose Mr Baitha to contest the Simariya bypoll and gave him the party’s symbol. The Congress decision to contest the bypoll has taken aback not only electors but also a wide cross section of the people of the state. The question on everybody’s lips is that if the Congress had decided to withdraw support from the Koda government, which it was claiming without ambiguity, then why was the party going to the polls? Why was the party allowing an unnecessary drainage of the state’s exchequer for the Simariya bypoll, when it was not clear that after the results were declared, the winning candidate will even get a chance to take oath as a legislator?
Now, after so much of tough-talking and mudslinging, if the Congress decides to eat its own words and spares the Koda government with some harsh words of caution, the party will risk itself of being completely wiped out, in case an election takes place ~ be it a mid-term poll or an election after Mr Koda completes his term. The Congress, which has only nine MLAs in Jharkhand at present, will literally turn to a signboard. In fact, Mr Maken is also in a catch-22 situation.
The common man of Jharkhand is blaming the group of three Independent MLAs ~ Mr Madhu Koda, Mr Enos Ekka and Mr Harinarayan Rai ~ for the prevailing uncertainty in the state since its inception back in 2001. During the past seven years, Jharkhand has seen five chief ministers, courtesy this trio. The tenure of Mr Arjun Munda saw this group of three extending to five, with two MLAs of the All Jharkhand Students’ Union (AJSU) Mr Chandraprakash Chowdhury and Mr Sudesh Mahato, joining the Ivy League, which virtually ran the Munda government and on several occasions held it to ransom for squeezing their bouquet of demands, ranging from sanction of funds for their individual constituencies to allocation of beefed up security and luxury cars and bungalows at premium locations in Ranchi.
The role of the Independent MLAs, who now include two more legislators of the UGDP Mr Bandhu Tirkey and Ms Joba Majhi, the inclination pattern of the JMM ~ about whether to spare the party supremo Mr Shibu Soren for a berth in the Union government during Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s efforts to rejig his Cabinet or to hold on to the “Guruji” of Jharkhand for a “greater role” in the state, the all-important pending decision of the Congress on whether to pull out of the UPA after the Simariya bypoll, the say of RJD supremo Mr Lalu Prasad on the political equations of Jharkhand ~ everything will come into play very soon.
Amid this utter confusion and innumerable political options, only two things are for sure. At the moment, Jharkhand’s political future is hanging in the balance and with the unfolding of political options, the rates for horse trading in the corridors of power in Ranchi, will be a bit higher than in the past.


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