Jharkhand seems headed for another five years of political instability with the three main players, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress, managing to deny one another a clear majority in the Legislative Assembly. For a stable coalition to take shape, two of the three parties must come together. Since a BJP-Congress coalition is unthinkable, the JMM and independents are in an enviable position. Thus, to nobody’s surprise, even as the election trends were firming up, the JMM reinforced its reputation as an unpredictable and opportunistic ally, up for sale to the highest bidder: senior leaders insist that the party’s support to any combine would depend on its chief Shibu Soren being made Chief Minister. Steeped as it is in a history of cases relating to corruption, the most notable being the bribery of JMM members of Parliament during a no-confidence motion in 1993 to vote in favour of the Narasimha Rao government, and violence, the JMM will be a difficult political partner -- ready to do business at any point with either the BJP or the Congress. That the party continues to command a sizable section of the tribal votes in Jharkhand speaks poorly of representative politics in this underdeveloped State. Jharkhand is yet to emerge out of semi-feudal backwardness, and for large sections of people, tribal loyalties tend to override other considerations on polling day.
The BJP, which bagged 30 seats in 2005, is the biggest loser this time, managing only 18. Evidently, the loss of Babulal Marandi, the first Chief Minister of Jharkhand, is still hurting. Mr. Marandi’s Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik), in alliance with the Congress, won 11 seats. The BJP’s ally, the Janata Dal (United), also suffered reverses, winning merely two seats against the six won last time. The Congress, with 14 seats, got five seats more than in 2005. The JMM retained its support base, increasing its tally by one to 18. The Rashtriya Janata Dal, a small player in Jharkhand, held on to 5 seats, down two. Even if the Congress wins over the RJD in the name of a broad secular alliance, the coalition would still be far short of the 41 MLAs needed to constitute a majority. Shibu Soren has thus emerged as kingmaker yet again, and he will make his decision solely on the basis of who makes the better offer. The Congress, as head of the United Progressive Alliance government at the centre, can obviously offer more than the BJP. But what is clear is that no matter what Mr. Soren decides, Jharkhand is set for a repeat of the political volatility of the last four years, which witnessed the bizarre spectacle of an Independent, Madhu Koda, reigning as Chief Minister between 2006 and 2008.