Who would you rather watch -- Shibu or Sachin? Do you prefer to watch Lalu when Lara too is on offer?
I confess that I preferred the second option in both cases, and was watching India take on the West Indies when the news broke that Jharkhand Chief Minister Arjun Munda had resigned.
But this is no more the end of politicking in Jharkhand than it is the last of the ODIs planned for this season. The best that one can say is that the current act of the Ranchi drama has ended in a more dignified manner than the last one.
Just to refresh everyone's memory, the assembly election of March 2005 threw up a House divided straight down the middle, with nary a group winning a simple majority. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance did, however, cobble up a rickety alliance.
For reasons that are still to be explained, Governor Syed Sibtey Razi ignored the logic of numbers, and presented the chief ministership on a silver platter to Shibu Soren of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. It took some gentle hints from the President and the Supreme Court to settle the resultant hullabaloo. (But not before more predictably depressing violence in the assembly.)
However, a government that rested on the most slender of majorities, one that depended on the votes of defectors, was never going to be anything but decidedly unstable. I am sure that efforts to woo the defectors back into the UPA camp began almost as soon as Arjun Munda took the oath of office; the chief minister was doomed to a rocky ride given that both Lalu Prasad Yadav and Shibu Soren were pulling strings from the Union Cabinet in Delhi.
It is some small mercy that all the actors in this sordid drama appear to have learned their lessons after the universally condemned drama of 2005. Governor Razi did his best to stay out of the spotlight.
Arjun Munda resigned rather than force the assembly to run the risk of more violence. And Speaker Inder Singh Namdhari wisely chose to postpone the question of the defectors' disqualification until tempers had cooled. Kudos all round, then, to all concerned! (Except perhaps for those MLAs who are now defectors twice over!)
But the relative decorum should not fool us into believing that Jharkhand's political problems are over. Any ministry replacing that of Arjun Munda -- caretaker chief minister as I write -- will be just as brittle as its predecessor. After all, it too stands or falls on the shoulders of those defectors, doesn't it?
It is not even quite clear who the next chief minister shall be. It will be truly farcical should Shibu Soren return to Ranchi once again, given all his huffing and puffing over not getting back his prized berth in the Union Cabinet.
On the other hand, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will probably be happier if his troublesome colleague gets out of Delhi. It is no secret at all that the prime minister was reluctant to take the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader back into the Cabinet, doing so only on the insistence of a 'higher authority'.
But if it is not to be Shibu Soren once again, then who shall it be? More to the point, does it truly matter? Anyone who takes that crown of thorns upon himself must dance to the tune of more than one master. He must answer not to Shibu Soren alone but also to Lalu Prasad Yadav, given the Rashtriya Janata Dal's ambitions in its former fiefdom. (Jharkhand was part of Bihar until half a dozen years ago.)
Yes, I know that Shibu Soren and Lalu Prasad Yadav are colleagues in the Union Cabinet. But this is a minor irrelevance. After all, that never stopped Lalu Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan from fighting each other in the Bihar Vidhan Sabha polls!
Let us, however, take a look at the larger picture. Uncertain electoral verdicts seem to have become the norm in India, giving rise to shaky post-poll alliances. Governance suffers as a result, with everyone more concerned with jockeying for position than the boring task of administration!
Is it time we finally bit the bullet, and went in for some variant of the American model with directly-elected chief executives? Or do you think there is still any hope of carrying on with the current set-up?
Call me the eternal optimist, but I believe there is still some life left in our current process. Please remember that the American model is no panacea; take a look at some American states where the executive and the legislature belong to different parties, and you find a recipe for paralysis. No democratic government will function properly unless there is a certain give and take between parties.
In his farewell speech as chief minister, Arjun Munda promised to offer a constructive opposition if his successor offered a conciliatory approach. It is up to him -- and his colleagues in the NDA -- to prove that these are more than empty words.
Provided, of course, that the next chief minister of Jharkhand is equally willing to bury the hatchet in the interests of the state!