The ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM)-led alliance in Jharkhand is not out of the woods as yet.
Despite Champai Soren being sworn in as Chief Minister Friday (February 2) along with two others--one from the Congress and another from the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)--the alliance is very wary of attempts by the opposition BJP to win over legislators from the JMM and the Congress.
That’s why 35 legislators belonging to the ruling alliance were flown out of Ranchi in two chartered flights to Hyderabad for ‘safe-keeping’.
That’s also why the new Chief Minister did not take any risk and expand his cabinet. Such an exercise would have led to considerable disgruntlement among the many claimants to ministerial berths from the JMM and the Congress who would not have found a berth.
JMM and Congress leaders fear that the disgruntled MLAs would have been susceptible to poaching from the BJP.
In a bid to preclude the possibility of the BJP winning over MLAs from the two main constituents of the ruling alliance, an anxious JMM leadership has decided to conduct a floor test in the Assembly on Monday (February 5) even though Governor C P Radhakrishnan gave the alliance ten days’ time to do so.
“The objective is to win the floor test and remove all doubts about the government not enjoying the support of a majority of the MLAs. Once that is done, the ministry-formation will happen,” former cabinet minister Mitihilesh Kumar Thakur (of the JMM) told Swarajya.
The ruling alliance feels that this course of action will make it immune from poaching attempts by the BJP.
But, say political analysts, this amounts to just temporarily warding off such reported attempts by the BJP.
“If the ruling alliance is so confident of itself, it would not have flown out its MLAs to Hyderabad for safe-keeping. It knows that a number of JMM and Congress MLAs are in touch with the BJP and can break ranks,” said political commentator Ratnakar Dubey who teaches at Ranchi University.
Dubey’s statement is corroborated by senior state BJP leaders who confirmed to Swarajya that at least ten legislators belonging to the JMM and the Congress are in touch with the saffron party.
“Yes, a number of MLAs from the JMM and Congress are in touch with us and have expressed their inclination to leave their parties. We expect their numbers to grow. The days of this government are numbered,” said state BJP chief Babulal marandi.
Another senior BJP leader told Swarajya: “How long will they (the JMM-Congress leadership) keep their MLAs away from Jharkhand and incommunicado? They will return to Ranchi Sunday (February 4) evening for the floor test Monday. We’ll see what happens then. There is no guarantee that the alliance will pass the floor test”.
The widening rift within the state’s first family--JMM patriarch Shibu Soren and his sons and daughters-in-law--is giving sleepless nights to the ruling alliance.
The eldest bahu of the family--Sita Soren, widow of Shibu Soren’s eldest son Durga Soren who was an MLA--successfully thwarted a concerted bid by (jailed CM) Hemant Soren to install his wife Kalpana as the Chief Minister after it became evident that he would be arrested by the ED and would have to step down.
When Sita Soren, along with at least three other senior MLAs, threatened to revolt and leave the party, Hemant Soren was forced to backtrack.
Shibu Soren wanted his younger son Basant Soren to become the CM. But Hemant felt that if his younger brother becomes the CM, he (Basant) would be reluctant to step down once Hemant gets bail and/or is cleared of the charges of money laundering, land grabbing and fraud pending against him.
As a compromise, family loyalist and Shibu Soren’s long-time lieutenant, Champai Soren, was made the CM. But that has not quelled the rift in the family, only put a very temporary lid on it.
JMM leaders told Swarajya that an uneasy truce in the Soren family prevails at present. Sita Soren is still belligerent, and though Basant is supporting Champai Soren, he still covets the CM’s chair.
Basant has been promised the Deputy Chief Minister’s post in return for keeping peace. But it is learnt that he has extracted a promise from his father that if elder brother (Hemant) gets embroiled in a long legal battle and cannot clear his name soon, Champai Soren will be asked to step aside and make way for him (Basant).
That is sure to create more complications.
Two other JMM MLAs--Chamra Linda and Lobin Hembrom--are supporting Sita Soren and have not joined their fellow-legislators on the trip to Hyderabad. Of the 35 MLAs who have gone to Hyderabad, eight to ten are said to be in constant touch through intermediaries with BJP leaders.
The numbers game:
The JMM has 29 MLAs, but in the event of a floor test, its effective strength will be 27 because Hemant Soren is in ED’s custody and Assembly Speaker Rabindranath Mahato cannot vote except in case both sides muster an equal number of votes.
The Congress has 17 MLAs while the RJD, NCP and CPI(ML-Liberation) have one each. That means the effective strength of the alliance is 47, which is a comfortable majority in the 81-member Assembly whose half-way mark is 41.
The opposition NDA has 32 MLAs--28 of the BJP, two of the All Jharkhand Students’ Union (AJSU) and two Independents.
Therefore, the effective strength of the 81-member Assembly will be 78--one seat is vacant, Hemant Soren is in custody and the Speaker cannot generally vote.
But if Sita Soren, Chamra Linda, Lobin Hembrom and Randas Soren (who is very ill and hospitalised) abstain from the confidence vote, the strength of the treasury benches goes down to 43.
That brings down the effective strength of the Assembly to 74 and the halfway mark falls to 38. In that case, the NDA has to get the support of just six more MLAs from the treasury benches to defeat the confidence motion and stake claim to form the government.
BJP leaders are playing their cards close to their chests, but told Swarajya that getting the support of six MLAs is doable.
In fact, they claim, more than six MLAs from the JMM and Congress are willing to either abstain or vote against the confidence motion.
“The playing field is wide open now, and will remain so even if the government wins the confidence vote. Even if the government wins on the floor of the Assembly, that victory will be very temporary and Jharkhand will see an NDA government by the middle of this year,” said a senior BJP functionary.
This confidence on the part of BJP leaders is making the ruling alliance very jittery. And that spells more political uncertainty for Jharkhand which has seen 12 Chief Ministers in 23 years and where only the BJP’s Raghubar Das lasted his full term in office.
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