Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren might soon be disqualified on account of holding an office of profit and entering into a conflict of interest. His portfolios include the mining ministry in the state, yet he allegedly decided to renew a mining lease in his name. According to the Election Commission of India (ECI) and the opposition parties of the state led by the BJP, the Jharkhand CM violated the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and should be disqualified as an MLA and thus might lose the chief minister’s chair.
The ECI has sent its recommendations to the governor on this. Soren’s disqualification, if it happens, will speed up the political tussle the state is witnessing in the last few months.
MLA poaching will be a big problem and Soren’s Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and the Congress might see rebel factions if the rival camp tries to approach them. Congress MLAs, already complaining about the alliance, might even decide to desert the ruling bloc and join the Bharatiya Janata Party camp to bring down the JMM-led government.
The ruling alliance in the state is preparing for it with resort politics making headlines. There are reports that in case Hemant Soren is disqualified and the state witnesses further political upheaval, JMM might send its MLAs either to Chhattisgarh or West Bengal. There are also reports that the Congress might send its MLAs to Rajasthan, in Jaipur.
Currently, the state assembly has 82 members as per official records. The state government is an alliance of the JMM, Congress, and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). JMM has 30 MLAs, Congress 18, and RJD has one. The state government has also re-nominated Joseph Galstaun as the nominated Anglo-Indian member of the Jharkhand assembly.
The BJP leads the opposition block of the assembly with 26 members. All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU) Party has two members and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation have one MLA each. The state assembly has two independent MLAs as well.
Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) ceased to exist after its merger with the BJP but the matter is still pending before the assembly speaker. The party had won three seats in the 2019 assembly election. Later on, it expelled two MLAs, Bandhu Tirkey in January 2020 and Pradeep Yadav in February 2020, for anti-party activities and decided to merge with the BJP. Both of the expelled JVM(P) MLAs joined the Congress.
42 is the majority mark in the 82-member assembly and the ruling coalition has 8 more MLAs than the threshold number, including the nominated member who can also vote in no-confidence motions.
The ruling coalition is going through a difficult phase. The Congress complains that it has been stabbed in the back by its senior partner. In May, the Congress demanded the alliance propose a joint Rajya Sabha candidate but the JMM chose to go it alone.
In July, the JMM chose to support the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA)’s presidential candidate, Droupadi Murmu, while the Congress expected it to support its presidential candidate, Yashwant Sinha.
THE FIRST SIGN OF REBELLION
Murmu had 60 expected votes from the 81-member-strong Jharkhand assembly while Sinha had 20 votes in his support. One BJP MLA could not vote as he was unwell. The effective strength of the Jharkhand assembly was 81 as nominated members have no voting rights in presidential polls.
Droupadi Murmu’s 60 expected votes included JMM’s 30 MLAs, BJP’s 25, 2 from AJSU Party, 2 independent MLAs, and the lone NCP MLA. Yashwant Sinha’s expected votes included 18 Congress votes and one vote each from the CPIML(L) and RJD.
But Murmu got 70 out of 79 valid votes after the polls while Sinha could get only nine. 10 more votes for Murmu meant around nine to 10 Congress MLAs might have voted for her.
OPTIONS BEFORE HEMANT SOREN
Disqualification as an MLA doesn’t mean Hemant Soren needs to resign from his seat. He may remain the CM, but in that case, he needs to take oath again and form a new cabinet. Jharkhand doesn’t have a legislative council and Soren needs to win an assembly election in the next six months; otherwise, he would have to resign. But he can only proceed to contest polls when he is not barred from it.
Alternatively, Soren can choose a family member or a close aide to replace him as CM. But he needs the confirmation of his alliance partners for this. Soren can also choose to approach the Supreme Court against the EC disqualification decision.
WILL THE GOVERNMENT FALL?
Will Jharkhand be the next Maharashtra, even if it is not pushed by the JMM MLAs but by Congress legislators? The state government will be in big trouble if Hemant Soren is disqualified. It will destabilise the government led by him and MLAs can opt to support the rival camp.
Around nine Congress MLAs have already voted for the NDA’s presidential candidate and they will be prime targets to be poached. If the Congress rebel camp gets the strength of three more MLAs, they will be two-thirds of the party strength in the assembly and will not face disqualification if they decide to support the BJP or merge with it. Already there is a notion that Soren is under pressure with cases against him and might dump the Congress to make a new coalition government with the BJP in the state. Therefore, why not dump the JMM before that and join the rival camp?
If this equation works out, it will bring down the government.
After Soren’s disqualification, 81 will be the effective strength of the assembly. Suppose, the BJP gets the support of 12 Congress MLAs. Add it to the support of other parties from the presidential polls, and the BJP will easily cross the majority mark in the assembly.
The BJP with 26 members and the support of 12 from the Congress, 2 from the AJSU Part, and two independent ones, will have a total strength of 42 MLAs, one more than the majority mark.
The BJP’s immediate demand after the EC letter is mid-term polls in the state while the JMM says there is no immediate threat to the Jharkhand government. But the unprecedented developments during the Maharashtra political crisis indicate political equations can take a U-turn on any given day.