Election Commission Widely Expected To Recommend Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren’s Disqualification From Assembly; Government Already In Crisis

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Aug 25, 2022 03:16 PM +05:30 IST
Election Commission Widely Expected To Recommend Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren’s Disqualification From Assembly; Government Already In CrisisJharkhand CM Hemant Soren (Pic Via Twitter)
Snapshot
  • Jharkhand Governor will issue his verdict based on the ECI’s report today.

    It is widely expected that he will go by the ECI’s opinion that Soren did indeed violate 'The Representation of The People Act, 1951'.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) has reportedly cancelled the Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren’s membership of the state legislative Assembly.

Speculation is rife that Soren has been held guilty by the ECI of violating Section 9A of The Representation of The People Act, 1951.

Section 9A of the Act reads: “A person shall be disqualified if, and for so long as, there subsists a contract entered into by him in the course of his trade or business with the appropriate Government for the supply of goods to, or for the execution of any works undertaken by, that Government”.

Soren has been accused of misusing his position to gift himself a lease for a stone mining quarry in Ranchi district in 2021.

Soren had applied for the grant of a lease for mining granite-gneiss rocks (used for construction) over a 0.88 acre plot of land in Angara Block of Ranchi district.

Soren’s application reached the Ranchi District Mining Officer (DMO) on May 28, 2021 and the DMO referred it to the Angara gram panchayat for its approval. This approval was granted on June 7. The Ranchi deputy commissioner granted approval for the lease on June 16, 2021.

The chief minister then applied for environmental clearance on September 9. This clearance was given by the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority on September 22.

The opposition BJP cried foul and accused Soren of misusing his office. Apart from being the chief minister, Soren was also in charge of the mining and environment departments which had granted him the lease and the environment clearance for the lease.

This ‘misuse of office’ by Soren was exposed by his predecessor--Raghubar Das (BJP)--in early February this year. Das had accused Soren of violating provisions of the 1951 Act as well as the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Soren, in a desperate attempt at damage control surrendered the mining lease on February 11 this year, soon after Das’ expose. But the damage was done and the BJP moved Governor Ramesh Bais to disqualify Soren from membership of the Assembly.

The Governor referred the matter to the ECI, asking for the Constitutional body’s opinion on the allegations. The ECI has sent its report to the Governor in a sealed cover.

The Governor will issue his verdict based on the ECI’s report today, and it is widely expected that he will go by the ECI’s opinion that Soren had violated the 1951 Act. That means Soren will lose his membership of the state Assembly and will have to resign from the CM’s post.

This will plunge Jharkhand, which is being governed by a coalition of Soren’s Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), the Congress and Lalu Yadav’s RJD, into a political crisis.

Apart from the tricky issue of finding a trusted MLA from within the JMM to succeed Soren, there is also the matter of keeping the Congress happy and the coalition intact while fending off an emboldened BJP’s bids to topple the government.

The BJP’s current strength in the Assembly is 26 while the JMM’s will stand at 29 with Soren losing his membership of the House. The Congress has 15 MLAs after it expelled three of its legislators who were arrested by the Bengal police with Rs 49 lakh in their vehicle.

The BJP can count on its ally--the All Jharkhand Students’ Union (AJSU)--which has two MLAs. The effective strength of the BJP-AJSU is thus 28.

But, say senior BJP leaders, a number of Congress and JMM legislators are in touch with the saffron party and can break away from their parties at an opportune time.

The Congress and the JMM have been accusing the BJP of mounting attempts to break their parties by wooing away their MLAs. Congress leaders have alleged that the three expelled MLAs were in touch with the BJP and the cash haul of Rs 49 lakh from their vehicle was part of the cash they received from the saffron party.

The Congress is especially vulnerable now. All that the BJP needs is support from a breakaway group of ten Congress MLAs to topple the JMM-led ruling alliance and form the government in the state.

“Many Congress MLAs are very disgruntled since they have been neglected and they have no voice in the ruling alliance. They are also disillusioned with their central party leadership, especially their ‘high command’ (the Gandhi family) and see no future for their party. They are looking for better prospects and if the disgruntlement attains the critical mass of two-thirds of the total number of their MLAs, they will not hesitate a second to break away and form their own party before extending support to us,” a senior BJP leader told Swarajya over phone from Ranchi.

The BJP leader’s contention that many Congress MLAs are unhappy is true. That is why Soren met all the MLAs of the ruling coalition and, in a bid to assuage them, promised a mechanism to enable them to convey their demands and grievances to him directly.

But that was, according to some Congress MLAs who spoke to Swarajya, too little too late. “For the past 33 months that our party has been in power in alliance with the JMM, none of our demands have been fulfilled. Our constituents are unhappy as we have not been able to work for them. We have reached the end of our tether and its become unbearable,” said a Congress MLA who did not want to be named for obvious reasons.

Some JMM legislators are also unhappy with Soren’s style of functioning and the bad name that he has brought to the party. A few senior leaders of the party who have been associated with the JMM from its early days and are senior (in age and experience) to Hemant Soren have been resentful of Hemant being installed as the CM by his father and JMM founder Shibu Soren.

Hemant Soren fears that at this vulnerable hour, his opponents both within and outside the party can strike at him. More so when the BJP, emboldened by his losing membership of the Assembly and the CM’s post, is waiting in the wings to topple the government.

All these fears, and also mounting suspicion over the motives of many MLAs belonging to the ruling alliance, has plunged the JMM-Congress-RJD government in Jharkhand into a deep crisis. A crisis that can spiral out of control and lead to the collapse of the government.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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