The man on whom all eyes are trained amidst the Jharkhand political drama is a veteran politician, having operated at all levels from municipal corporation to Parliament.
Governor Ramesh Bais, who started out as a councillor in Raipur Municipal Corporation in 1980, went on to win the Raipur Lok Sabha constituency seven times for the BJP, earning a reputation as a giantkiller, apart from holding several important posts in the party, before he was picked for the gubernatorial job in Tripura in 2019.
Among the leaders he defeated at the hustings was the late Congress bigwig, V C Shukla, and current Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel. In Bais’s first poll loss in Raipur after 1989, Shukla had defeated him in 1991 by a meagre 900 votes. Bais had challenged the verdict in the High Court – and won.
Bais also served as the party’s MP unit vice-president, and as Minister of State in the NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to whom he was close. The new Delhi leadership was appreciative of the fact that when a decision was taken to replace all sitting BJP MPs with a fresh team in 2019 in Chhattisgarh – after the resounding loss to the Congress in the state in 2018 — Bais had accepted the move without protest. This was perhaps why the Governor’s role came to him.
Sources said Bais had also made a place for himself in the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah dispensation by siding with Modi when he was still testing the waters for his prime ministerial bid. Bais had surprised everyone because he was seen as closer to L K Advani.
Bais moved into the Raj Bhavan in Ranchi in July 2021, after the BJP lost Jharkhand in one of its rare defeats since 2014, especially in a state ruled by it. He replaced Droupadi Murmu – who recently took over as the first tribal President of the country – after Murmu had pushed back on some legislation passed by the previous BJP government that was seen as anti-tribal.
While taking over as Governor, Bains had taken care to stress that he would not let party loyalty come in the way of performing his constitutional duties.
One of his first points of conflict with the Hemant Soren government was over the 2021 notification framing new rules for the Tribes Advisory Council (TAC), a body under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, after the power to constitute the committee was transferred from the Office of the Governor to the Office of the Chief Minister.
Earlier this year, Bains returned the Prevention of Mob Violence and Mob Lyncing Bill, 2021, with two objections: one on the mismatch in Hindi and English versions of the legislation, and another on the definition of ‘mob’.
Then came the controversy involving Soren allotting a mine to a family company, which could now lead to his disqualification from the House. It was the BJP’s letter to Bais over this, that led the Governor to seek the EC’s opinion on the matter.
Even as the above row played out, Bains asked police to put out names of those involved in the violence in Ranchi in protests over BJP leader (since suspended) Nupur Sharma’s remarks against Prophet Mohammed.
A source said that as a veteran, Bains knows what is expected of him, “when to react, and when not to”, but had erred in the Ranchi violence incident. “Printing of pictures of the accused and putting these on hoardings at strategic locations… it was name and shame, and as a constitutional post holder, he should not have done it.”
With the Home Department immediately objecting to the police action, the posters had been removed within 10 minutes.
Others say Bais, in fact, had a good opinion of Soren. “In one of our conversations, he said he very much liked Hemant Soren… that he had a very bright future. However, he said that Soren did not listen to him.”
As days pass and Bais is yet to reveal the EC’s recommendation regarding action to be taken against Soren over the mine allocation, Opposition parties have been criticising the Governor. The UPA, including the JMM, Congress, RJD and some Left parties, say the delay is meant to allow the BJP time to break away their MLAs.
Bais has refused to respond to the charges, and recently cordially hosted a delegation of the UPA, seeking to clear the air on the delay.
Soon after, his lips sealed still, Bais left for Delhi, reportedly for “consultations”.
(With inputs from ENS, Delhi)