M A I N   N E W S

NDA close to govt formation in Jharkhand
Prashant Sood
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 27
Benefiting from the confusion in opposition ranks, the ruling NDA has gained an upper hand in the sweepstakes to form the next government in Jharkhand by getting 36 of the 81 seats for which the results were declared today.

Though the BJP-JD (U) tally of 36 is four less of the seats won in the 2000 Assembly poll, the NDA is better placed to form the government as two ministers of the Arjun Munda Cabinet have won the elections as members of smaller parties. A BJP rebel, Madhu Kora, has won the election from Jaganathpur.

Of the results declared so far, the BJP has won 30 seats while the JD (U) six. The Congress-JMM combine won 26 seats. The RJD, which did not ally with any other UPA partner, finished with seven seats. The results have virtually dashed the hopes of JMM chief Shibu Soren of becoming the Chief Minister. Both his sons lost the elections.

Mr Stephen Marandi, who had revolted against Mr Soren’s denial of ticket to him, has won from Dumka.

Chief Minister Arjun Munda won from Kharsawa by nearly 6,000 votes.


Cong working towards ‘secular’ governments
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 27
Although shell-shocked by its own poor performance as well as the overall results of the Bihar and Jharkhand polls, the Congress today put up a brave face, saying it will make all concerted efforts to install a "secular government" in both these states.

There was, however, no clarity as to how this objective will be achieved as the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress with 88 seats are short of the half-way mark in the 243-member Bihar Assembly.

While the RJD is dependent on the Congress support in Bihar, in Jharkhand it is the Congress-JMM combine with 26 seats which needs the RJD's eight candidates to be able to form a secular government.

While RJD's Laloo Prasad Yadav is already looking to smaller parties like the CPI and the NCP along with independent, for additional support, it will also need Mr Ram Bilas Paswan's 30-member Lok Janshakti Party to reach the magic figure in Bihar.

Given Mr Paswan's antipathy towards Mr Yadav and his public declaration that he will not support a RJD government and the JMM-RJD's ongoing cold war, everybody is banking on Congress president Sonia Gandhi to evolve a compromise in both these states.

Mr Ahmed Patel, her political secretary, has already got in touch with Mr Paswan and the pace of political activity will pick up further after the LJP arrives here tomorrow.

The UPA coordination committee meeting on March 1, called ostensibly to discuss the Budget session, will serve as a good opportunity to resolve these differences between the ruling combine's allies. It is imperative for the Congress to do so to ensure that the Bihar developments do not have an adverse import on the UPA government at the Centre. The Congress finds its position weakened in both states, having become further dependent on regional players like the RJD, the JMM and now the LJP.

Confident that Ms Gandhi's mediatory skills will work, Congress strategists said Mr Paswan may be persuaded to go along with a secular alliance but his support will come with a hefty price.

This could include a pre-condition that the Rabri Devi should not occupy the Chief Minister's post on the plea that the people had voted for a change.

The Congress believes the LJP will be constrained in accepting this offer as this could erode his Dalit-Muslim support base. The ball is clearly in Bihar governor Buta Singh's court.

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