In Jharkhand limbo, ruling coalition MLAs on edge over Hemant Soren’s future

In Jharkhand limbo, ruling coalition MLAs on edge over Hemant Soren’s future

A livid Banna Gupta on Sunday evening hit out at Jharkhand Governor Ramesh Bais and asked him to make public the Election Commission of India’s (ECI) opinion on Chief Minister Hemant Soren’s disqualification as MLA.

Banna who is from the Congress and the minister of health in the Soren-led government accused constitutional bodies of being misused to confuse the public. “Please decide and we will give an answer. We are neither afraid nor have we stopped. Decide and we will respond in 24 hours against it. Whether it is democratic or constitutional … The public is in trouble and therefore we are requesting the governor to make the issue public and whatever it is.”

Though the ruling coalition of Soren’s Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), the Congress, and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) posed a united front after the EC recommended to Bais that the CM be disqualified, there is anxiety in the camp about not only Soren’s future but also the arrests of three Congress MLAs in West Bengal last month and the effect of these incidents on governance.

The ruling alliance has 49 MLAs — 30 from JMM, 18 from Congress and one from the RJD — in the 82-member House. Of these legislators, the three Congress MLAs arrested in Bengal are staring at disqualification. Soren’s fate and that of his brother Basant also hang in the balance. The ECI is likely to soon send the governor its recommendation on a plea to disqualify Basant. It has been alleged that in his election affidavit the CM’s brother concealed information that he is the director of a mining company. Soren contested the 2019 Assembly polls from Dumka and Barhait, winning both. He vacated Dumka from where Basant won a bypoll.

“Now it is the question of who blinks first and that is why there is irritation among the MLAs as well as Hemant Soren,” said a ruling coalition leader. “First, the bid to topple the government was foiled but the humiliated opposition BJP must be in some strategic planning. Amidst the scheme of things, there have been marathon meetings among the leaders and it seems that all MLAs (46) have now signed a letter of support in favour of Hemant Soren. There is talk in the grapevine about poaching, but largely that issue has been settled. The MLAs are united. There seems to be no harm to the government as we are on the front foot. However, given the reported disqualification, and further delay in announcement, the MLAs are a little uncertain about the immediate future of Hemant Soren and, to an extent, about his brother Basant Soren.”

Government insiders said administrative work had taken a hit because the entire Cabinet and the ruling coalition’s MLAs were in Ranchi amid the uncertainty about the CM’s future. Sources in various districts said everyone was in a wait-and-watch mode on the “fate of the government”. A district official said, “There is no monitoring of work and the files are taking longer than usual to move.”

But some ministers attempted to project an image of business as usual on Monday. Minister of Education Jagarnath Mahato posted pictures of a series of meetings that he chaired while Banna Gupta put up pictures of his arrival at his office in the Nepal House secretariat. Gupta wrote, “We will neither be afraid nor will we bend. We fought and will continue to do so, no matter how much our detractors push us back.”