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Updated: May 19, 2010 11:54 IST

BJP squabbling holds Jharkhand decision hostage

Neena Vyas
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BJP President Nitin Gadkari with JMM Chief Shibu Soren. File photo
BJP President Nitin Gadkari with JMM Chief Shibu Soren. File photo

The more the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership discusses the Jharkhand tangle, the more it seems confused and unable to move forward. Even if a decision is taken in a day or two, the BJP would still have taken about 20 days to resolve the crisis it had created for a government, in which it is a partner.

The issue, it seems, has now become hostage to the BJP's internal squabbles that were papered over in the first few months of Nitin Gadkari's presidentship as individual leaders tried to influence him to make appointments of their political ‘chelas' and flunkeys.

After hastily announcing withdrawal of support to the Shibu Soren government, the party quietly put that decision on hold. It suddenly dawned on the BJP that withdrawal of support would be like cutting off one's nose to spite the face.

It would have meant loss of a government in the mineral-rich State and much else. Worse, imposition of President's Rule by the Centre, justifiable given the fractured mandate of the last Assembly election, would send a wrong political signal to Bihar, where Assembly elections are due in 4-5 months.

And all this for what? After all, what did Mr. Soren do except vote against the NDA-sponsored cut motion in the Lok Sabha? The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha was under no obligation to follow the BJP's diktat on the vote, it is a separate party with its own views on various matters. It is not even a member of the National Democratic Alliance, which the BJP leadership was fond of emphasising as a conglomeration of alliances at the State level. For years various NDA partners fought elections against one another except in those States where an electoral understanding had been reached.

Just a day before the cut motion, Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj herself pointed out that only three parties were the BJP's NDA partners — the Shiv Sena, the Janata Dal (United) and the Akali Dal. The JD (U) voted differently from the BJP on the crucial women's reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha quite recently, while the Sena had refused to follow the BJP line in the presidential election, preferring to vote for the United Progressive Alliance candidate, Pratibha Patil. The BJP then did not threaten to break the alliance with the JD(U) in Bihar and bring down the Nitish Kumar government, or snap its decades-long relationship with the Sena. Then why the fuss on the JMM vote?

When all this was discussed and the JMM dangled the carrot of supporting a BJP-led government in Jharkhand, the leadership had to give in and keep in abeyance its withdrawal of support decision.

Then began the long and painful dialogue with the JMM, which, apparently, kept changing its “offer.” It first agreed to extend support to a BJP Chief Minister for the remainder of the Assembly tenure, but later insisted on rotation of the post between the two parties.

Again, that was logical for, less than five months ago the BJP agreed to support a JMM-led government for a full term of five years. (Both parties have 18 MLAs each.) Most leaders agreed, except a few including L.K. Advani. What his argument was against rotation was not quite clear, as he himself had recommended such an arrangement in other States.

Then as the BJP leadership began discussing possible chief ministerial names, many leaders jumped into the fray either to get their man in that hot seat or ensure that the person perceived to be the “other” leader's man did not get the job. This led to tussles in the party making a deal with the JMM difficult.

Party sources disclosed that the latest effort was to scuttle the consensus on Arjun Munda — who is apparently the Jharkhand BJP legislators' choice. One State leader, Raghuvar Das, who has the backing of BJP general secretary (organisation) at the central level, reportedly incited a few JMM legislators to make a new “first turn for the JMM in the rotational arrangement” demand, knowing this would not be accepted by the party leadership. There is a view that this is being done deliberately to scuttle the consensus on Munda.

Here is where the matter is stuck. Mr. Gadkari will be away for 10-15 days on a holiday — that plan has been postponed by a day to enable him to attend the funeral of the former Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat on Sunday — and he is expected to authorise a couple of senior leaders to take and announce a decision in his absence. There are some in the party who are not happy about this delegation of authority. And that is where the matter stands.

Correction and Clarification

The second sentence of the sixth paragraph in the above News Analysis reads "The JD (U) voted differently from the BJP on the crucial women's reservation Bill...." The writer has this to say by way of clarification.

"There was a difference of opinion within the JD (U) on women's reservation and although in the Rajya Sabha the party members voted with the BJP, in the Lok Sabha this is not likely as JD (U) president Sharad Yadav, a member of the Lok Sabha, is a staunch opponent of women's reservation minus a sub-quota for backward class women."

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