The Bharatiya Janata Party on Wednesday decided to withdraw support to the four-month-old Shibu Soren government in Jharkhand, in which it was a coalition partner, and instructed its legislature party leader Raghuvar Das to meet the Governor to carry this forward.
The Congress said it was “watching” the situation and would not act hastily, while the BJP claimed it was “ready to sit in the Opposition.” What was unstated, but understood, was that the Congress would be in no hurry to attempt formation of an alternative government.
The buzz in political circles is that the Assembly may be placed in suspended animation and President's rule imposed till the numbers add up to allow another group (supported by the Congress) to make a claim to government formation.
It was “foul play” by Mr. Soren, who had voted with the government and against the Opposition-sponsored cut motions in Parliament on Tuesday, that led the BJP to hastily convene a meeting of its Parliamentary Board chaired by party president Nitin Gadkari on Wednesday morning, where the decision to withdraw support was taken. Yashwant Sinha, Mr. Das and Arjun Munda were present as special invitees.
Ironically, Mr. Soren had dined with Mr. Gadkari on Tuesday after having cast his “treacherous” vote, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj said. She confirmed Mr. Gadkari was unaware of what his guest had done less than an hour earlier in Parliament. She said even senior leader L.K. Advani was not aware of Mr. Soren's “betrayal” until she conveyed it to him.
What the BJP leadership has gathered is that Mr. Soren may be interested in allowing his son Hemant Soren to become Chief Minister (with the help of the Congress and some others) and he himself may opt to retain his Lok Sabha seat and come back to politics at the Centre. The other two chief ministerial candidates the Congress is likely to consider are Subodh Kant Sahay and Babulal Marandi of the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha. Mr. Marandi, who parted company with the BJP several years ago to set up his own political outfit, had contested the Jharkhand polls as an ally of the Congress.
Responding to a specific question, Ms. Swaraj said the BJP “was not in touch with Mr. Marandi” or trying to woo him back into the party.
Ms. Swaraj was also categorical that the vote against the cut motion was not cast by “mistake.” “After the first vote on the cut motion, our MP Nishikant Dubey went up to Shibu Soren to point out to him that he had pressed the red button (against the cut motion) instead of the green. He told him the deed had already been done. Then again when paper slips were distributed for the final vote, Mr. Dubey suggested to him that he pick up the green slip (‘yes' for the cut motion), but he asked for the red. There was no mistake at all, but some of his men later said Shibu Soren was suffering from a medical condition that makes him forget,” she told reporters.
The irony was not lost on anyone: when Mr. Soren was part of the United Progressive Alliance I, he voted against the government (on the nuclear deal vote) and now he has voted against the Opposition, although a partner of the BJP in Jharkhand.