» Election » Horse trading: An inside look

Horse trading: An inside look

By Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
Last updated on: March 07, 2005 23:07 IST
Get Rediff News in your Inbox:

Part 1: Devious ways of the Congress

The script to form a Congress-Jharkhand Mukti Morcha government was ready as soon as the assembly election results in Jharkhand started pouring in on February 27.

On that day a Congress coterie arrived from New Delhi and booked rooms in Arya Hotel and Capital Hotel in Ranchi.

They were already in touch with JMM rebel Stephan Marandi, Har Narayan, Madhu Tirkey, Chandraprakash Chaudhry, Enos Ekka, Sudesh Mahto, Madhu Kodah and Joba Majhi of Manoharpur, all of them key to the success of the Congress plans.

As soon as Marandi  was declared elected in Dumka, defeating Shibu Soren's son, he was called to a secret meeting point by the Congress.

The marauders of democracy

This 'hideout' was an under-construction building on the Club Road of Ranchi. The hideout was fixed to mislead Ranchi police.

Congress leaders believed, justifiably so, that the police in Ranchi were partisan and were helping the Bharatiya Janata Party to locate Independents and legislators of small parties, who could be used to stake claim in the state.

Marandi claimed to the Congress coterie that he was in touch with four Independents (who are now in the BJP camp).

Marandi was ambitious and he tried to convince Congressmen that Independents would not agree to support Soren for the post of chief Minister.

He also got the support of a few Congress leaders.

At the same time, RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav was cajoled to patch up with Shibu Soren.

Congress leaders forced Guruji (Soren) to speak to Lalu on the evening of February 27.

Was the governor's decision right?

Lalu was annoyed because Congress and JMM had ignored him and sealed a pre-poll alliance, which later failed miserably.

Lalu got an apology from Soren and a promise from Congress to back him in Patna. In return, Lalu lent 7 legislators to Congress-JMM.

Lalu said, "Jab madam kahegi tab bat karenge". (Let Sonia Gandhi speak to me about this.)

Lalu got the desired call from Sonia's office and attempts to form a United Progressive Alliance government in Jharkhand speeded up on February 27 itself.

Once Lalu and Soren patched up, the Congress headquarters decided to send Water Resources Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi and Ajit Jogi to Ranchi.

At that moment when Dasmunshi took off from New Delhi for Ranchi, no one thought that Sonia or Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would lose their alibi in pleading innocence in the Jharkhand mess.

Dasmunshi had the power to decide and make promises to the MLAs.

How Cong shot itself in the foot

From February 28 the two leaders were in touch with Governor Syed Sibtey Razi.

Dasmunshi, who has a special knack for resolving political tangles, met Marandi in a hotel room at 1600 hours.

Over chicken sandwiches, they talked about possible political formations in the state. This was well after they knew that the National Democratic Alliance was claiming majority and would stake claim the next morning.

Dasmunshi told Marandi that he would have to accept Guruji (Soren) as CM because Soren's name was finalised after deliberations between Lalu and the Congress leaders in Delhi.

The meeting went on for three hours. Dasmunshi could soften Marandi's stand.

Marandi was so keen to become CM that on February 28 he fixed a meeting of Congress leaders with Sudesh Mahto, Har Narayan, Chandraprakash Chaudhary and Madhu Kodah at 2000 hours.

How NDA pulled off Operation Decoy

And believe it or not, all these four gentlemen, who are now enjoying the royal hospitality of BJP in Jaipur, met  Marandi in the presence of Congress leaders.

Marandi was asked to 'settle" the terms and conditions of buying their support.

The Congressmen were in a hurry to get their signatures expressing support to UPA but they kept debating endlessly.

They initially asked for 15 minutes, but even after two hours of talking they could not decide on what Marandi could promise them.

Most of them wanted two ministries.

A source in the Congress alleges that one of them wanted a huge amount of cash and one ministry.

'Doesn't Sonia have any shame?'

Since that candidate was linked to the BJP early in his political career, they thought it could be a trap.

Also, reportedly, Congress leaders explained to the Independents that JMM was not so big a party that it could pay eight-figure sums!

Meanwhile, Har Narayan said that he was tired and that he wanted to freshen up.

He want to room 308 in Heritage Hotel.

Neither Marandi nor Congress managers smelled a rat because he was known to be Stephan Marandi's trusted aide.

Har Narayan left the crucial meeting and Congress lost a major battle in the war they had started to conquer Ranchi.

In a few minutes the word spread that policemen in plain clothes had entered Har Narayan's room.

There was a melee in the hotel lobby as JMM workers and Congress leader Subodh Kant Sahai rushed to stop the police from "hijacking" him.

The local media had also reached the hotel by then. They even published pictures of the police in Har Narayan's room.

The Congress claimed that all this was at the behest of the outgoing CM, Arjun Munda.

The police left the hotel, but Har Narayan never came back to Marandi or into the UPA fold.

The same night, BJP would convince him to join the NDA.

Meanwhile, Subodh Kant Sahai tried to play politics by creating confusion that Independents neither wanted Soren nor Marandi but  they preferred a Jharkhand-based Congressman!

He managed Nizam, assistant of newly-elected Ms Joba Majhi, to circulate his name. But before he could try to push his name any further Dasmunshi shrewdly nipped it.

Of the candidates that were present with Marandi that day, only Bandhu Tirkey signed in favour of backing the UPA.

When television channels started showing Enos Ekka's wife talking about her missing husband the Congress swung into action. But before they could get in touch with his family BJP had taken possession of Ekka's family.

The task of getting Madhu Kodah on board was assigned to a Delhi-based fixer of Soren.

But Kodah proved to be a tough nut. Talks failed and Kodah left for Jamshedpur.

Congressmen got panicky. At 0430 hours on March 1, he was traced and was asked to come back to Ranchi... all his 'demands" accepted!

Again, it was too late for the Congress. He said he would reach Ranchi at 0600hours. Before that could happen the BJP got him too.

The BJP's pointsmen, Venkiah Naidu, Rajnath Singh, Pramod Mahajan and Arun Jaitely, proved smarter than Sonia's Congress coterie.

By March 1, BJP had garnered the required numbers to form the government. And, when NDA staked its claim with 41 MLAs no one doubted it.

To thwart the BJP's well-synchronised efforts, Congress leader Ajit Jogi managed to obtain a letter from the president of Jharkhand Party that his MLA, Enos Ekka, would support UPA.

Governor Syed Sibtey Razi just needed an excuse to use his "discretion." He has argued in private that 'he had to keep in mind the possibility of horse trading in the prevailing situation'.

The Jharkhand Party gave the desired letter to Razi.

On March 2, the five controversial MLAs met Governor Razi along with 36 MLAs of the NDA.

Har Narayan didn't speak a word with the governor. Ekka said he was not under duress. He reportedly told Razi that he wanted to be a minister "jo bhi banaye" (irrespective of who does it).

Sources also claim that the governor found Ekka's body language abnormal as he shook hands with him.

Later, Congress leaders complained to Razi that he should have meet the five Independents separately.

Although 41 NDA MLAs were paraded in Raj Bhavan, it did not hassle Jogi and Dasmunshi. They kept believing that Har Narayan and Enos Ekka would switch to the UPA as soon as they were "freed" by the BJP.

On basis of this false hope, Congress leaders in New Delhi supported efforts to form an UPA government in Ranchi.

The governor was aware of the events. His fundamental sin was that he went by Congress's views.

Congress leaders in Delhi including Arjun Singh also noted that on February 27, Congress and JMM had 27 legislators in their camp, but in 36 hours they managed to hike the number to 37.

And at one point (when Marandi met the Independents) they theoretically had 40 MLAs on their side... for a few hours.

Sonia Gandhi's office got a clear impression that "for the BJP too it would not be an easy walkover." Maybe this belief prompted it to go for a bigger gamble.

Ajit Jogi sent a message to Delhi that Ekka was being held in the CM's residence and would back the UPA if and when he was freed.

And on March 2, when the governor hurriedly and shamelessly swore in Soren without waiting for the UPA to parade its MLAs, Congress managers went berserk.

More than ever now they needed Har Narayan and Ekka. After the swearing-in ceremony, not only was the governor's honour at stake but also the party's image and the people's perception of Sonia Gandhi.

They thought the biggest hurdle in the backroom management was the media, including the TV channels.

A few minutes after the swearing-in ceremony, Soren and other Congress leaders called the police chief inside Raj Bhavan and instructed him to assign a talented officer capable of stopping the BJP leaders from sneaking out the five Independents.

In their effort to track Ekka and Har Narayan first, the Patna-Ranchi-Delhi flight was delayed at Patna airport.

When it arrived at Ranchi, it was decided that it will be searched. Senior Superintendent of Police Anurag Gupta arrived on the scene.

A complaint was made out to enable the police to search the flight. Bandhu Tirkey, one of the ministers newly sworn in, accompanied Gupta inside the flight to verify passengers who were ready to leave for Delhi.

Again, the BJP played smart. They first tried to sneak out the five prized MLAs by a special helicopter.

The Congress alleges that in the evening of March 2, BJP leaders Ravishankar Prasad and Ahluwalia arrived in a special flight and misled the Air Traffic Control at Ranchi airport saying Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel was on board and sought special clearance to land.

The Congress got suspicious. On checking with Patel, they discovered that he was in Delhi!

The BJP leaders then changed their plan and took the five Independents by road.

When Gupta could not find the independent MLAs on board, Chief Minister Shibu Soren ordered the authorities to seal the borders.

But all efforts were futile because BJP leaders in Delhi were monitoring the great escape every thirty minutes.

They knew that Dasmunshi, being a Bengali, would have some influence in West Bengal. So they asked the vehicle carrying the MLAs to exit the route leading to Kolkata. They were routed to Bhubaneswar in Orrisa, an NDA-ruled state.

Only when Dasmunshi realised that the five MLAs had made good their escape, Sonia Gandhi's men in Delhi started damage control by distancing herself from Governor Razi's actions.

Then again, it was too late. BJP leader L K Advani, with some help from the media, had already created a storm over the issue.


Get Rediff News in your Inbox:
Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi