CM nixes ally hot seat claim

Ranchi, Jan. 3: For the first time since Jharkhand's ruling coalition began bobbing in choppy waters of uncertainty, Arjun Munda today categorically said his party, the BJP, never had any power-sharing agreement with ally JMM.

The candid chief minister also "welcomed" Opposition Congress to come forward and take the helm if it could form a "stable and transparent" government in the state.

Munda was speaking at a news conference at his Kanke Road residence late in the afternoon after he handed over a written reply on the JMM's charter of demands.

The communiqu� to Shibu Soren reportedly spelt out the government's stand on a bunch of contentious issues, including CNT Act, Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act, domicile policy, financial aid to madarsas, status of nine regional and tribal languages, government sops to statehood heroes and rehabilitation and resettlement policies.

It, however, conveniently ignored the 28-month power-sharing deal, which the JMM claimed to have struck with the BJP when the coalition was formed.

"There was no such deal. No such matter ever came up when the government was formed. But, I must say that this state needs a stable government and I hope for a stable government in the future. Let our partners decide," Munda told reporters.

BJP state president Dineshanand Goswami said that the reply to the JMM had been supervised by the party high command in Delhi.

Incidentally, Vinay Sahasrabuddhe ' an emissary of BJP national president Nitin Gadkari ' during his visit to Ranchi yesterday had admitted that there was a crisis in the coalition that needed to be resolved without delay.

The JMM reacted cautiously. "We have received the reply from the chief minister. The party brass is looking into it. The letter does not mention power-sharing. Our leader Shibu Soren will take a final stand on January 6 or 10, when two important meetings are scheduled," said spokesperson Vinod Pandey.

Having put the ball in JMM's court, the chief minister also threw down the gauntlet to the Congress.

"Rashtriya dal Congress ka bahut bayan aa raha hain. Yadi unki ichha hain toh unhe aage badhna chahiye saari sthiti ko shpasht karte huye (There have been many statements from Congress. If it wishes, it should come forward and take the helm to clear things)," he said.

It is, however, not clear whether the Congress is willing to forge an alliance with the JMM in the near future. "We will not hold talks with the JMM unless it officially severs ties with the BJP," reiterated state Congress president Pradeep Kumar Balmuchu.

On his way to Delhi, the Rajya Sabha MP said he had sought an appointment with AICC chairperson Sonia Gandhi. "The political situation in Jharkhand will be discussed with Madam," he said and summed up Munda's challenge to his party with a quip. "The BJP probably has Congress-phobia."

Congress legislative party leader Rajendra Prasad Singh said it would be premature to comment on party strategy. "Let BJP and JMM decide first whether they want to remain together or not," he echoed Balmuchu.

Observers, meanwhile, said Munda played a seasoned politician by lobbing the ball in JMM's court. "The situation in Jharkhand is volatile. While the Congress is holding its cards close to the chest, the JMM too will think twice before severing ties with the BJP, a more reliable political partner with who the bonhomie has lasted over two years. January 10 is a crucial date," one of them said.

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