The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) has the Congress’ request to field a common candidate, if not a Congress nominee, for a Rajya Sabha seat from Jharkhand. State Chief Minister and JMM working president Hemant Soren landed an unpleasant surprise on the Congress by announcing the name of his party’s Mahila Morcha leader, Mahua Maji, as its nominee for the Rajya Sabha seat.
But much more than an unpleasant surprise, Soren’s announcement on Monday (30 May) amounted to a direct humiliation of the Congress ‘high command’, especially Sonia Gandhi. That’s because Soren had with Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi Saturday (28 May).
Congress leaders said that Soren had assured Sonia that he would discuss the Congress’ suggestions for a common candidate with his father, Shibu Soren, before making an announcement. He had, senior Congress leaders told Swarajya, gently resisted Sonia Gandhi’s request to announce the name of a common candidate at a joint press meet in New Delhi itself.
“Sonia ji had suggested to Hemant Soren that he could consult his father (Shibu Soren, the founder of the JMM) over phone. She had suggested that the senior Soren could take his pick from the list of common candidates prepared by the Congress or suggest a name of his own choice. But it would look good and convey the impression that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was going strong in Jharkhand if Hemant Soren makes an announcement naming a common candidate at a joint press conference with Congress leaders at the Congress headquarters in New Delhi,” an AICC member who did not want to be named since he isn’t authorised to speak to the media told Swarajya.
Hemant Soren deftly walked away from the trap that was being laid by Sonia Gandhi and told her that his father was old and ailing, and could not hold long phone conversations. He also assured Sonia Gandhi that he would tell the media that the ruling alliance (led by the JMM and comprising Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal) is intact in Jharkhand and that there were no differences between the JMM and the Congress.
Though Sonia Gandhi and top Congress leaders were not too pleased with Hemant Soren’s nimble rejection of their request, they nonetheless bought the JMM working president’s assurance that the name of a common candidate would be announced in Ranchi.
After returning to Ranchi, Hemant Soren met his father. And on Monday (30 May), he announced the name of Mahua Maji and his party’s candidate for the Rajya Sabha seat. Maji, former president of the JMM’s Mahila Morcha, had also contested the Ranchi Assembly seat twice unsuccessfully on her party ticket.
But Maji’s name did not figure in the list of common candidates handed over by Sonia Gandhi to Hemant Soren last weekend. “She (Maji) is a JMM leader and could never have been a common candidate. We had suggested names of some academics, intellectuals, public policy experts etc. as common candidates,” said the Congress.
The JMM’s announcement left the Congress shell-shocked. “We could never imagine that even after meeting our supreme leader (Sonia Gandhi) and giving her an assurance, Hemant Soren would go back on his word. He has crossed a red line by deliberately insulting Sonia ji,” said a state Congress leader.
The shock soon gave way to a feeling of outrage amongst Congress leaders. Jharkhand Congress in-charge Avinash Pandey met Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi Monday evening and is scheduled to reach Ranchi where he will meet the state Congress leadership and also speak to Hemant Soren.
But the Congress can do little in Jharkhand. The JMM has 30 MLAs, three more than the 27 first preference votes required to ensure a smooth sailing for Maji. The BJP, with its 25 MLAs, also has the requisite strength to get its nominee--state general secretary Aditya Sahu--elected to the Rajya Sabha. Polls will be held for two Rajya Sabha seats from Jharkhand, along with 55 others in other states, that are falling vacant.
The Congress has 16 MLAs while the RJD has one. Jharkhand Congress leaders, though outraged, were circumspect. Jharkhand Congress president Rajesh Thakur said that the unilateral announcement of Maji’s name by the JMM was a violation of the agreement reached at Hemant Soren’s meeting with Sonia Gandhi.
Pandey, Thakur and more than half a dozen senior Congress legislators from Jharkhand met at the national capital on Saturday to discuss the party’s choice for the Rajya Sabha seat from the state. The Jharkhand leaders urged Pandey to tell the party leadership to nominate a local leader from the state for the Rajya Sabha seat.
Little did they know that the JMM was in no mood to support a Congress nominee. They were dismayed when they were told that Hemant Soren had turned down the Congress’ proposal (for fielding its own candidate with JMM’s support). But the saving grace, they then believed, was that the JMM would support a neutral candidate picked by the Congress leadership. That hope, too, was nixed by the JMM.
The Congress’ claim to the Rajya Sabha seat from Jharkhand is based on the support it extended to the election of JMM patriarch Shibu Soren to the upper House in June 2020. “We supported Shibu Soren wholeheartedly at that time. The JMM ought to have respected coalition dharma and reciprocated by supporting our candidate this time. But not only did it refuse to support a candidate of our choice, it went back on its promise of supporting a common and neutral candidate,” rued the AICC member.
JMM leaders who spoke to Swarajya said that the Congress is in no position to make such demands. “The Congress did us no favour by supporting Guruji (as Shibu Soren is reverentially called) in 2020. At that time, too, we had the numbers to get Guruji elected without Congress support. And the Congress should remember that it won 16 seats, ten more than its score in 2014, because Guruji endorsed their candidates and Hemant ji and other senior leaders of our party campaigned for them,” said a senior JMM leader.
The reason senior Congress leaders are alarmed over the JMM’s blatant snub to their ‘supreme leader’ Sonia Gandhi is that it could encourage others to defy the ‘high command’. “Hemant Soren’s insult of Sonia ji could lead to (UPA) alliance partners in other states to also snub our ‘high command’. That bodes ill for the Congress,” said the AICC member.
What he did not say was that to challenge the ‘high command’ (Sonia and her children), leave aside deliberately insulting the Congress’ ‘first family’, amounted to nothing short of sacrilege. Top Congress leaders fear that Hemant Soren’s snub of the Congress ‘high command’, and the latter’s helplessness over its inability to avenge the insult, could encourage UPA allies to commit similar ‘sacrilege’.
Even powerful regional satraps of the Congress, they fear, may then defy the ‘high command’. And that could, in future, pave the way for an implosion within the party. If the stature of the Congress ‘high command’ gets diminished, the party itself would face an existential crisis.
That is why the Congress is outraged, and at the same time, very disturbed, over the insult meted out to Sonia Gandhi by the JMM. What’s most galling for the top leadership of the party is that it can do nothing but swallow the insult.
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