Explained: The Political Confusion And Conundrum In Jharkhand
The grievances and differences between and within the alliance partners are intensifying with each passing day.
That the Governor is not playing ball is causing a lot of heartburn, frustration and fear in equal measure.
Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren convincingly won a trust vote in the state assembly on Monday (5 September).
But that hardly means anything, and did little to end the political confusion that has prevailed in the state ever since the Election Commission of India (ECI) sent its opinion on Soren’s disqualification to state Governor Ramesh Bais on 25 August.
Bais had asked the ECI for its opinion on a petition by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seeking cancellation of Soren’s membership of the assembly for holding a mining lease which it said was an ‘office of profit’.
The BJP contended that Soren violated Section 9A of the Representation of People Act 1951.
The ECI sent its opinion to the Governor in a sealed cover and it is widely believed that the constitutional body has not only recommended cancellation of Soren’s membership of the assembly, but also barred him from contesting polls for a specified period.
The Governor has not divulged the contents of the ECI’s letter till now, and that had triggered confusion and a lot of speculation in Jharkhand.
Ruling Alliance On Tenterhooks
The ruling alliance comprising the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) is on tenterhooks and is apprehensive of alleged attempts by the BJP to engineer defections to reduce the ruling alliance to a minority.
That’s why a nervous Soren flew ruling alliance MLAs to neighbouring Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh before bringing them back to state capital Ranchi on Sunday and putting them up at the circuit house there for the night before the trust vote.
Winning the unsolicited trust vote — it was not sought by the Governor or the courts — did little to calm the frayed nerves of the ruling alliance leaders.
There’s a growing trust deficit between the alliance partners, primarily the JMM and the Congress.
The Congress leadership has made it clear that it will not mind Soren’s disqualification from the state assembly and a bar on his contesting elections for a few years.
However, said Congress leaders, their party will continue to be part of the alliance with the JMM.
This has angered the JMM leadership which felt that the Congress leaders ought to have been circumspect and not made statements which hint at fissures in the alliance.
“The Congress leadership, by saying that it has no objection to Hemant Soren’s disqualification, has only supported the BJP’s allegations against the Chief Minister. That amounts to violation of the coalition spirit,” said a JMM minister.
Also, the leaderships of both the Congress and the JMM are not fully confident of the loyalty of all their MLAs.
That’s why they felt the need to fly out a majority of the MLAs to Raipur (Chhattisgarh’s capital) and keep them there for a few days.
But that will, as past experience in some other states have shown, hardly discourage or prevent poaching of the ruling alliance MLAs.
JMM leaders have admitted that some prominent legislators in their party are spreading disaffection and trying to engineer a split in the party.
Congress Distrust Of Own MLAs
The Congress leadership is also distrustful of its legislators and has, for the past couple of months, suspected that a few of them are in touch with the BJP.
This impression was strengthened after three of its MLAs were caught by Bengal Police from a highway near Kolkata with Rs 49 lakh in cash.
The three are suspected to have received the cash from the BJP for engineering a split within the party in Jharkhand.
Disaffection Within JMM
Many in the senior ranks of the JMM are unhappy with Soren who superseded them to become the Chief Minister.
These senior JMM leaders who have been long-time associates of Hemant’s father Shibu Soren ever since the latter founded the JMM are unhappy over being sidelined in the party and believe they had a stronger claim to the Chief Minister’s post than Hemant.
These senior JMM leaders, and many other party MLAs as well, are upset with Hemant Soren for indicating that he will install his wife Kalpana, who hails from Odisha, if he is disqualified from membership of the assembly and thus loses his Chief Minister’s post.
“This (Hemant’s plan to install his wife as CM) is very unfair and reeks of parivarvad (dynastic politics). There are many capable and experienced MLAs within the party and it is only fair that a senior MLA is installed as the CM. Hemant’s plan to install his wife as his successor shows that he does not trust anyone else and wants to rule the state by proxy,” said a senior JMM legislator who took his grievances to Shibu Soren but did not receive a satisfactory reply from the latter.
The Congress is also uncomfortable with Hemant Soren’s plan to install his wife in his place.
“Jharkhand today is not the Bihar of the late 1990s when Lalu Yadav installed his wife Rabri Devi in his place when he was disqualified after being convicted in the fodder scam. Lalu Yadav got away with that, but times have changed and our ruling alliance will draw a lot of flak if Kalpana Soren or even his mother Rupi Soren is installed as the proxy CM,” said a Congress cabinet minister.
These grievances and differences between and within the alliance partners are intensifying with each passing day.
That is why Monday’s trust vote holds no meaning and things will only be clear once the Governor divulges the contents of the ECI’s letter and makes his stand on the ECI’s recommendations clear.
The ruling alliance wants the Governor to do so immediately in order to keep the coalition, and their own parties, intact. That the Governor is not playing ball is causing a lot of heartburn, frustration and fear in equal measure.
The BJP’s Role
The BJP on its part is happy to let the confusion continue. It is apparent that the saffron party is playing a game of nerves with the ruling alliance and will be happy to see the cracks within the JMM and the Congress, as well as between the two parties, deepen.
“The test of any alliance is when it goes through a crisis. The present crisis that the JMM-Congress-RJD alliance is facing is Hemant Soren’s own making. If the alliance fails this test, we can hardly be blamed for it,” said BJP leader and former chief minister Raghubar Das.
The BJP is happy to keep the ruling alliance on tenterhooks in the hope that differences within the JMM and the Congress, and between the two parties, will deepen. That could well trigger a revolt and defections which will reduce the government to a minority.
Senior BJP leaders told Swarajya that they would not mind assembly elections being held now. “The JMM-Congress-RJD alliance government has failed to deliver. There is widespread corruption and people are angry. The government suffers from acute anti-incumbency. If polls are held now, we will emerge victorious,” said a top BJP leader.
Assembly elections in Jharkhand are scheduled to be held in end-2024.
The BJP’s hope is that after Soren is disqualified from membership of the assembly and instals his wife or mother as the proxy Chief Minister, a section of JMM and even Congress MLAs will abstain from the trust vote that the new government will have to seek. Or better still, some of the ruling alliance MLAs will defect.
That will lead to the government falling. The BJP may not want to form the next government in the state and will be happy if fresh polls take place.
“We are confident of winning the next polls whenever they are held — either in December 2024 as scheduled or even now — by a huge margin. People are fed up with the JMM-led alliance government and want the BJP back in power,” said Das.
For now, the political suspense is proving quite unbearable for both the JMM and the Congress. Both want the Governor to make his stand and get it over with.
But both the parties are also aware that any adverse action by the Governor — disqualification of Hemant Soren and his disbarment from contesting polls — can only trigger a bigger crisis within their parties and the ruling alliance.
The BJP is happily watching from the sidelines the ruling alliance stewing in its own juices now.
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