Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Kiran Mandal, representing largely the Bengali refugee population of Sitarganj in Udham Singh Nagar district of Uttarakhand, is reportedly in talks with the Congress over quitting his seat, even as local BJP cadres staged protests at Shakti Farm and declared him a ‘traitor.'
Confusion prevailed as some reports said Mr. Mandal had gone “missing.”
Neighbours say ‘Nirmal dada' was negotiating with the Congress high command for vacating the Assembly seat for Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna. He was willing to do so, provided the Bengali refugees were given land rights.
“Nirmal Dada is a great man and we are confident that he will do anything to secure us justice,” say Bipasha and Santosh Mandal, who eke out a living making handicraft items out of grass and bamboo.
But news of Mr. Mandal being poached by the ruling Congress has sent shock waves in the Opposition BJP, which is just one seat short of the ruling Congress in the House of 70. The Congress has 32 seats, plus the support of seven more from the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (Panwar) and independents — all Congress rebels. The BJP, with 31 seats, was hoping to trounce Mr. Bahuguna when he contested the election to enter the Vidhan Sabha from a seat that might be vacated by one of the Congress MLAs.
Tit for tat
Little did the BJP visualise that the Congress would try to repay it in the same coin by poaching an MLA just as it (the BJP) did by getting the former Minister and then Congress MLA from Dhumakot, T.P.S. Rawat, to resign and pave the way for the then Chief Minister, B.C. Khanduri's entry into the Vidhan Sabha in 2007.
The BJP, which sought the Governor's intervention to trace Mr. Kiran Mandal who has been missing from his house since Friday evening, softened its stand after his son appeared on local television channels on Saturday saying that his father was in Dehra Dun and had agreed to vacate his seat in the Vidhan Sabha provided the Congress gave land rights to the Bengali refugees, the Schedule Caste status to the Namoshudra subcaste and better opportunities to improve their economy.
The former president of the State Bengali Kalyan Samiti, Ravindranath Sircar, felt that ‘Nirmal Babu' was doing the best possible work to uplift the status of the downtrodden refugees as other refugees from West Pakistan had been given all sorts of help by the government.
Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hailed from the erstwhile West Pakistan and the BJP leader L.K. Advani was a Sindhi. With this as the background, there should be no opposition in granting a level-playing field to people from East Pakistan, he said.
Confusion has been further compounded in the BJP camp with rumours floating that the Congress was all set to ‘poach' yet another MLA.
Meanwhile, the BJP high command named the young MLA and former Minister from Kumaon, Ajay Bhatt, as Leader of the Opposition, bringing an end to claims by the former Speaker, Harbans Kapoor, and manoeuvres by the beleaguered former Chief Minister, Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank. Mr. Bhatt is a loyalist of the Khanduri-Koshiary camp.
Now, the BJP satraps, including Mr. Nishank, are eyeing the post of State BJP president.