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Countdown to Jharkhand trust vote begins

By Neena Vyas

NEW DELHI, MARCH 8. As the countdown began to the trust vote in Jharkhand by the Shibu Soren Government on March 15, the National Democratic Alliance had its own set of problems to worry about.

If Mr. Soren's Government was to be brought down on the floor of the Assembly — as the NDA is hoping to do — will the NDA be able to emerge successful in the trial of strength that the Bharatiya Janata Party's chief minister-designate, Arjun Munda, will have to face?

Party leaders here are worried on three counts. One of these is the possibility of one of the independents supporting the NDA being wooed by the United Progressive Alliance.

There is some speculation that one of the five (other than the 36 MLAs of the BJP and the Janata Dal-United) so far supporting the NDA, Enos Ekka, may in fact not be able to vote against the wishes of his party, the Jharkhand Party, which is supporting the UPA.

There are apparently some grey areas in the new law on defections, and it is not clear whether one or two MLAs of any party have to be guided by the fiat given by party bosses who may be outside the legislature party.

Two, even if that does not happen and the NDA continues to get the support of 41 MLAs in an Assembly of 81, can the UPA upset the calculations by nominating an Anglo-Indian MLA for which there is a provision? If the UPA were to do this, the number game will be equally balanced at 41-41.

The BJP general secretary and `prabhari' for Jharkhand, Rajnath Singh, today said that "it would not be right for the Soren Government to nominate an MLA before the trial of strength'' and he hoped this would not be done. But, others in the BJP recalled that when the JD(U) leader, Nitish Kumar, had faced a similar situation in 2000 (when what is now Bihar and Jharkhand were part of Bihar), he had filled up that vacancy for a nominated MLA.

Anyhow, whatever the rights and wrongs of what was done in the year 2000, there is a view that healthy precedents should be set up and the nomination of an MLA should not take place before a government gets past the majority test on the floor.

The nomination of an MLA is one issue the NDA leaders are expected to raise with the President when they meet him tomorrow.

The third area that the BJP is worried about is government formation, even if the Soren Government falls and the NDA leader, Arjun Munda, passes the strength test.

The Jharkhand Assembly by law cannot have more than a 12-member Council of Ministers.

The BJP has already promised ministerial berths to all five independent MLAs, the Speakership is to go to the State leader of the JD(U), and besides, it is learnt that the JD(U) is expecting at least three ministerial berths.

This would leave only a few crumbs for the 30-strong BJP contingent.

A senior party leader commented recently that what with the infighting between the Babulal Marandi and Arjun Munda groups and the possibility of giving only three or four ministerial berths to the BJP, there would be a scramble.

Aware of this problem, another senior party leader said that most of the BJP MLAs would have to be satisfied with chairmanships of various State corporations.

While there would be some trouble, the leadership is confident of containing this.

But above all this, there is also the view that no matter whether it is the UPA or the NDA which succeeds in ruling Jharkhand initially, it could degenerate into a Goa-like situation with a wafer-thin majority for the Government.

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