Presidentís rule likely as Arjun Munda quits, Congress wary

Arjun Munda
Jharkhand Chief Minister Arjun Munda quit Tuesday morning after the JMM formally pulled out of the government. Submitting his resignation to Governor Syed Ahmed, he sought fresh elections.

The governor urged him to continue as caretaker CM till an alternative arrangement was put in place.

However, the state appeared headed for another spell of President's rule, with Congress president Sonia Gandhi learnt to be against propping up a government. Party legislators from the state are, however, camping in New Delhi to pressure the Central leadership to explore the option of forming a government along with the JMM, RJD and Independents.

The JMM submitted the letter withdrawing support to the Munda government, reducing it to a minority, at 10.30 am. An hour later, Munda reached the governor's official residence, after presiding over an emergency meeting of his Cabinet, and resigned. He also conveyed to Ahmed the Cabinet recommendation that the Assembly be dissolved and fresh elections held.

The JMM indicated it hoped to lead a new government with Congress support. "We hope the Congress will now do whatever is necessary to strengthen democratic institutions. We should put an end to this political instability as fast as possible," JMM spokesperson and core committee member Supriyo Bhattacharya said.

Both the JMM and BJP have 18 MLAs in the current Assembly. The Congress has 13, and can count on the RJD's five legislators.

Should that alliance fructify, the JMM will almost certainly insist on party supremo Shibu Soren's son Hemant being made CM. He was the deputy CM in the outgoing regime and the dispute over the chief ministership was the main reason the JMM withdrew support to the Munda-led government. During negotiations, the JMM was learnt to have also demanded that Munda be replaced with Khunti MLA Nilkanth Singh Munda, but the BJP had refused to agree.

AICC in-charge of party affairs in Jharkhand Shakeel Ahmed said the Congress will take a call only after the governor takes a decision on the recommendation to dissolve the Assembly. "It is not binding on the governor to accept the recommendation of a minority government," he told reporters in Delhi.

Ahmed held talks with Jharkhand PCC chief Pradeep Balmuchu, CLP leader Rajinder Singh and other party MLAs during the day.

Hemant Soren and four other JMM legislators were to fly to Delhi later in the evening Tuesday for talks with senior Congress leaders.

Sources said Sonia, who had discussed the issue with Balmuchu on Monday evening, has reservations about being a part of the next government particularly as it is likely to be inherently unstable and vulnerable to all kinds of pulls and pressures.

Any new government would also have to rely on the fickle support of seven Independents. Trying to describe the kind of demands they may face, a JMM leader said: "Someone wants a briefcase, someone wants a jacket, someone wants a shirt."

With only two years left for next Assembly polls, the Congress also fears inheriting anti-incumbency should it cobble together a lameduck government.

The best-case scenario, the party's central leadership thinks, is a short spell of President's rule followed by elections. An emphasis on development activities in Jharkhand during this time, the Centre hopes, will benefit the party in the scheduled December 2014 Assembly polls. The period will also be used to strengthen the party in the state.

The BJP also said elections were the best option before the governor. "The only way out of the Jharkhand political imbroglio is to dissolve the Assembly and conduct fresh elections," BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said.

In a brief address to journalists on the steps of Raj Bhavan after resigning, Munda appealed for stability and fresh elections. "I tried my best over the past two years to give a stable government. We now need to seek fresh mandate from the people, have elections and understand what the public aspires," he said.

Hemant Soren may not face the going easy even within his own party should the chief ministership come to him. Four outgoing ministers of the party, including Health Minister Hemlal Murmu, have said they preferred fresh elections. "I think we should now go back to strengthening the party and get ready for fresh elections instead of trying to form another government," he said.

The JMM's attempts to form a new government are also driven by a desire to keep Babulal Marandi's Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) ó a natural enemy fighting for the same turf - away from a pre-poll alliance with the Congress.

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