Congress Bid To Assert Itself Within Jharkhand’s Ruling Alliance Backfires, Party Faces Imminent Implosion

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Apr 9, 2022 04:21 PM +05:30 IST
Congress Bid To Assert Itself Within Jharkhand’s Ruling Alliance Backfires, Party Faces Imminent ImplosionJharkhand Congress in-charge, Avinash Pande (Twitter)
Snapshot
  • At least five of the Congress’ 16 MLAs have openly sided with JMM president and state Chief Minister Hemant Soren in the battle between their party’s central leadership and the JMM.

The Congress, which is a junior partner in the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in Jharkhand, faces a serious revolt within its ranks after a bid to assert itself against ‘big brother’ Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) backfired.

At least five of the Congress’ 16 MLAs have openly sided with JMM president and state Chief Minister Hemant Soren in the battle between their party’s central leadership and the JMM. These rebel MLAs have, while expressing support for Soren, questioned the functioning of their party’s four ministers in the cabinet (read this).

Trouble started brewing between the alliance partners after the All India Congress Committee (AICC) in-charge of Jharkhand, R P N Singh quit the Congress and joined the BJP in late January this year.

Singh was accommodative and, in the interests of the alliance, thwarted repeated bids by a section of his colleagues in the state party unit to up the ante against the JMM.

Some Congress MLAs and leaders had been complaining about being ‘ignored’ by Soren. Their primary grouse has been that their requests for additional funds for their constituencies as well their recommendations regarding appointments to government jobs and transfers of government officers were not being accommodated.

While R P N Singh kept these MLAs under check and understood the compulsions of the alliance where his party is the junior partner, his successor--Avinash Pande--started backing these MLAs. Pande (the present AICC’s minder for Jharkhand) felt that Soren ought to honour the wishes of the alliance partner.

Pande also started believing allegations levelled by some Jharkhand Congress leaders that the JMM was trying to eat into the Congress’ support base and weaning away grassroots workers. He then lent his weight to the state party unit’s demand to chart a common minimum programme (CMP) and to form a coordination committee comprising representatives of the alliance partners to oversee the functioning of the government.

The framing of the CMP has been hanging fire ever since the UPA came to power in the state in 2019. While the Congress has been harking on it, the JMM maintains that the government is functioning perfectly well and, hence, there is no need for a CMP.

The Congress has, of late, started contending that with the alliance completing half its term (it assumed office in end-December 2019), it is high time a CMP is framed.

But the JMM remains dismissive of the Congress’ demands. JMM’s principal general secretary Supriyo Bhattacharya has categorically said that there is no need for a “cosmetic and ornamental” CMP and a coordination committee when a “practical mechanism” already exists.

“Most features of the pre-poll manifestos of both the JMM and the Congress are almost identical. The Congress has four representatives in the council of ministers and the CM (Hemant Soren) is always accessible to Congress MLAs and leaders,” said Bhattacharya.

He conceded that while there is no harm in conceding to the Congress’ demand and having a cosmetic CMP and a coordination committee, the JMM would not bow to undue pressures from the junior alliance partner.

“The Congress should not raise unreasonable demands and assert itself unnecessarily. It should be in touch with ground realities and assess its strengths across the country, especially after the last round of Assembly elections whose results were announced on 10 March,” said Bhattacharya. He was referring to the Congress’ defeat in Punjab, Manipur, Uttarakhand, Goa and Uttar Pradesh.

Bhattacharya’s statement provided a firm indication that the JMM was in no mood to humour the Congress after it (the Congress) had lost more ground across the country. The Congress is in power on its own in only Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan and is a junior partner in the ruling alliance in Jharkhand. Hence, the Congress is in no position to assert itself.

The JMM-Congress-RJD alliance (the UPA) won 47 seats (of the total number of 81 seats) in the 2019 Assembly elections. While the JMM bagged 30 seats, the Congress’ tally stood at 16 and the RJD got only one seat. The BJP won 25 seats.

Soon after taking over as the AICC pointsman for Jharkhand, Pande presided over a three-day ‘chintan shivir’ which was attended by all the Congress MLAs and senior party functionaries of Jharkhand. Many Congress legislators voiced their grievances against the state government and complained about being ignored by Chief Minister Soren. Some of them also complained against the functioning of the four Congress ministers in the cabinet.

Based on the feedback he received, Pande handed over a list of demands to Soren. Prominent among these demands were the framing of a CMP and formation of a coordination committee. But the JMM, far from conceding the demands, did not even acknowledge them.

Jharkhand Congress leaders told Swarajya that Pande felt very insulted by the cold shoulder given to him by the JMM. He felt that as an AICC in-charge of Jharkhand, he should have been accorded proper respect.

That’s why Pande asked his party MLAs not to meet CM Soren for the next two months. He issued this diktat at a meeting of the Congress Legislature Party that he presided over in Ranchi on 1 April.

JMM was dismissive of Pande and his diktat. “Some Congress leaders live in ivory towers and are completely oblivious to the fact that all the ground had slipped from below their feet. Avinash Pande is in no position to issue threats and ultimatum to our party,” a senior JMM leader told Swarajya over phone from Ranchi.

Pande’s diktat did not go down well with many state Congress leaders who felt that it would unnecessarily strain the alliance and may even rupture it. “The BJP is waiting in the wings and we must realise that the JMM, which has aligned itself with the BJP in the past, would not hesitate to do so again in future if we push it (the JMM) too strongly. Our central leadership seems to have no idea of ground realities. It is imperative to keep this alliance alive or we (the Congress) will be in a far worse position than we are now,” a senior Congress MLA who did not wish to be named told Swarajya.

In an open snub to Pande, and by extension to the party’s central leadership, four Congress MLAs declared that they would not follow Pande’s diktat and would support CM Soren. They also questioned the functioning of their party’s four ministers in the cabinet.

The four--Irfan Ansari, Umashankar Akela, Rajesh Kachchap and Naman Bixel Kongadi--claimed the support of five other party MLAs. “The UPA fought the 2019 Assembly elections under the leadership of Hemant Soren and his contribution to our victory cannot be denied. He is our leader and we have no problems with him. It is the functioning of our four ministers that needs to be evaluated. They are not performing and that has triggered resentment against the Congress. We will apprise Rahul Gandhi about all this soon,” said Ansari.

The four Congress ministers are Finance Minister Rameshwar Oraon, Rural Development Minister Alamgir Alam, Health Minister Banna Gupta and Agriculture Minister Badal Patralekh. A sizable number of Congress MLAs want Oraon and Gupta replaced. “Younger MLAs should be given a chance to become ministers and they will deliver,” said Ansari.

Pande dismisses suggestions of dissent within the Congress in Jharkhand. “All is well and all MLAs are on the same page. The Chief Minister needs to change his style of functioning and accord due respect and importance to his alliance partner,” he said.

But, clearly, all is definitely not well within the Jharkhand Congress and the party is wracked by serious differences. A large section of party MLAs do not want any serious confrontation with the JMM and are averse to rocking the alliance boat. The JMM, it is learnt, has won over some Congress MLAs and if matters come to a head, a number of Congress MLAs could break away and extend support to Soren.

That would be disastrous for the Congress. But the party’s central leaders, especially Pande, don’t seem to realise this and appears hell-bent on taking his paty down a suicidal path in Jharkhand.

Also Read: Revealed: How The Hemant Soren Government In Jharkhand Is Going Soft On Seditious Activities In State

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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