New Delhi/Ranchi, Jan. 8: Congress president Sonia Gandhi convened a meeting of senior leaders tonight to discuss the emerging political situation in Jharkhand amidst pressure from the state unit to form an alternative coalition.
Though party leaders insisted the next step would be contemplated only after studying the nature of the recommendation made by the governor, sources revealed Sonia gave the go-ahead to the state leadership to explore the possibility of a viable alternative
The Congress's Jharkhand incharge Shakeel Ahmed told The Telegraph that that the party was awaiting the governor's recommendation and the discussions so far had been informal. But, he did not rule out the possibility of a new coalition in the state.
On the contrary, he argued that chief minister Arjun Munda's recommendation for dissolution of the Assembly was unconstitutional because his government had lost majority.
At a meeting this evening with Ahmed, Jharkhand leaders claimed to have the support of 43 MLAs, one more than the magic number, without the inclusion of Babulal Marandi's JVM.
Though a section of the party feels alliance with the JMM was risky and would not help the Congress bolster its image, others feel the priority should be to weaken the BJP in the context of the next Lok Sabha election.
The coalition will be discussed formally with Hemant Soren tomorrow. The state Congress is keen to explore possibilities of forming an alternative government with the help of the JMM, but wants Shibu Soren and Co. to approach it first.
While a number of MLAs were in Delhi trying to impress on the party leadership that an opportunity to form a government in Jharkhand should not be lost, senior leaders also indicated that efforts were on to cobble up a coalition.
Hemant left for Delhi in the evening. Accompanied by Champai Soren, Simon Marandi and Mathura Prasad Mahto, he said the JMM had had preliminary talks with Ahmed and leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly Rajendra Prasad Singh.
"We are going to explore possibilities for forming a new government in the state," Hemant said.
Senior Congress leader and former Union minister Subodh Kant Sahay seemed to be in the loop, too. "We are watching the developments. We will do what is in the interest of the state," he said.
State Congress president Pradeep Kumar Balmuchu was more forthright. He asked the JMM to prepare a detailed plan and discuss it with the Congress.
"JMM is our ally at the Centre. It is the party with the higher number (of MLAs). According to political principle, it has to come to us with a proposal for formation of the next government. We will surely discuss," he said.
The JMM has 18 MLAs and the Congress 13. RJD, another UPA ally, has five MLAs. In addition, any alternative formation without the BJP would have to have take support from Independents like Bandhu Tirkey, Geeta Koda, Videsh Singh, Anosh Ekka, Harinarayan Rai, Chamra Linda and Arup Chatterjee.
Several Congress MLAs have been camping in Delhi for the last two days, meeting senior party leaders and demanding that the "opportunity" to explore possibilities of forming a government in Jharkhand with the help of JMM, RJD and Independents not be lost.
"The ball is in the governor's court now, but we are telling Shakeel Ahmed and others that opting for elections or resorting to President's Rule should be avoided. The focus should be on entering into a partnership with JMM and others to end the crisis," Bhavnathpur MLA Anant Pratap Deo said.
Partymen believed that the prospect of being part of a JMM-led government would boost their organisational efforts in the state.
"In 2009, when the Shibu Soren-led UPA government fell, President's Rule was imposed, which went on for months. But the tenure cost the party hard as evident in the Lok Sabha elections in which the Congress was left with only one MP from Jharkhand. The party's condition has only worsened after that. So, local leaders do not want the same mistake repeated," said an MLA, requesting anonymity.