Jharkhand’s new Chief Minister, Champai Soren, won a confidence motion that he had moved in the state assembly on Monday (5 February) by a comfortable margin.
But it is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that he ought to thank for being able to pass the crucial floor test.
That’s because the saffron party decided against entertaining disgruntled legislators of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and the Congress who were keen to defect from their parties or abstain from the confidence vote.
As had been reported earlier (read this), a number of MLAs from these two parties, which are allies in the state, were in touch with BJP leaders and were willing to abandon ship.
At least 10 (of the 17) Congress MLAs were quite willing to break away from their parent party. And six to seven JMM legislators who had been unhappy with Hemant Soren or were angry over Champai Soren being named as the CM were inclined to abstain from the confidence vote.
The JMM and Congress leadership were well aware of this. That is why they herded 35 MLAs to Hyderabad for ‘safe-keeping’.
The MLAs had to surrender their cellphones and all electronic devices, including laptops and tablets, and were kept confined to their rooms at a plush resort in Congress-ruled Telangana.
A strong posse of policemen were posted at the resort to bar entry of outsiders, and a tight security cordon was thrown around the resort by Hyderabad City Armed Reserve Police and the Telangana State Special Police personnel.
Inside the resort, Telangana Congress workers closely monitored the activities of the MLAs who were barred from speaking to anyone, including even the room service staff of the resort.
“The JMM and Congress leaders knew that their MLAs were unhappy and were in touch with us. That is why they were kept under such strict watch in Hyderabad,” said BJP state president Babulal Marandi.
The MLAs were flown back to Ranchi late on Sunday (4 February) afternoon and put up at the Circuit House. There, again, they were put under strict watch.
The circuit house in the Nagra Toli area of Ranchi became a ‘no-go’ zone with Jharkhand Armed Police (JAP) personnel guarding the complex like a fortress and special branch officers mounting round-the-clock surveillance on the MLAs.
Not only that, JMM patriarch Shibu Soren and some top Congress leaders from Delhi reached out to the disgruntled MLAs with desperate requests to save the Champai Soren government by voting in favour of the confidence motion in the assembly.
Ultimately, the confidence motion was passed in the assembly with 47 MLAs of the ruling alliance led by the JMM and comprising the Congress, RJD, NCP and CPI (ML-Liberation) voting in its favour.
However, the government won the floor test not because it could successfully seclude the MLAs and prevent a number of them from keeping in touch with the BJP, or because the JMM-Congress leadership could successfully address the grievances of the disgruntled ones.
It won the floor test because the BJP leadership decided it would not be worth the effort to defeat the Champai Soren government on the floor of the assembly.
The BJP did not want to get embroiled in the legal complications that would follow if even two-third of the Congress MLAs (12 of them) defected or if a number of JMM legislators abstained from the confidence vote.
Assembly elections in the state are slated for this year-end and toppling the government at the end of its term would not be worth the effort, decided the BJP.
Also, anti-incumbency against the Hemant Soren government had peaked and the BJP feels that Champai Soren will inherit this anti-incumbency.
“The JMM-led alliance will face a crushing defeat in the next assembly elections and it is better to come to power through elections rather than through the backdoor, especially when the tenure of the government is limited,” a senior BJP leader told Swarajya.
A section of the BJP state leadership was keen on toppling the government by entertaining the disgruntled Congress and JMM legislators. This section felt that contesting the next assembly elections later this year while in power in the state would confer an advantage on the BJP.
However, the party’s central leadership realised that considerable effort would have to be given to the project of getting the confidence motion defeated. And at a time the party is concentrating its energy in winning the Lok Sabha elections a couple of months from now with a record margin, it would simply not be worthwhile to expend so much effort in ensuring the fall of the Champai Soren government.
The BJP central leadership, and many within the state leadership too, felt that if Champai Soren fails to win the confidence vote because of defections and abstentions, the ruling alliance may gain some sympathy and the acute anti-incumbency against it would get diluted.
Hence, it was decided to allow the JMM-led alliance to win the confidence vote. With (former CM) Hemant Soren embroiled in charges of fraud, money laundering and corruption and quite likely to get convicted, it would be better to fight and defeat the alliance electorally after allowing anti-incumbency against it to peak over the next few months.
Also, felt the BJP central leadership, it would be better to allow the rift in Hemant Soren’s family to widen, and disgruntlement within the JMM and Congress to fester. That will inevitably weaken the two parties and make it easier for the BJP to defeat them in the electoral arena later this year.
That is why the BJP decided against playing its cards and allowed the ruling alliance to win the confidence vote. Champai Soren would know who to thank for surviving the day.
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