Jharkhand has played true to form in acquiring one more Chief Minister — the ninth since it was carved out of Bihar in recognition of its tribal character and to uplift its people from endemic poverty and deprivation. That lofty goal has of course been forgotten in the rush by a procession of rulers to feather their own nests. Indeed, Hemant Soren’s elevation to Chief Minister comes against a background of broken promises and amassment of wealth by a succession of regimes brought down by their own brinkmanship games and misconduct. Add to this the young Chief Minister’s inexperience, the fickle nature of Jharkhand’s political loyalties, and the slow withdrawal from active public life of his father Shibhu Soren, and it could be anybody’s guess if and how long the new regime would last. The complexities inherent in the situation must explain why the Congress chose not to jump into the vacuum left behind by exit of the JMM-BJP government. That government was doomed to fail because the two parties had manoeuvred themselves into an alliance despite being placed at two ends of the ideological spectrum. The pact finally broke in January 2013 over the JMM’s growing proximity to the Congress.
The Congress’s first instinct was to stay clear of government formation machinations fearing the damages to its electoral prospects from another failed experiment. However, with the passage of time, party strategists appear to have reasoned that there were larger dividends to be had from exploiting the JMM’s desperation to return to power. Towards this end, they placed before the JMM a demand for extending the alliance into the general election. The JMM, in turn, asked for the pact to apply to neighbouring Bihar and two other States with tribal population — Orissa and Chhattisgarh. The Congress added West Bengal to this package. The deal has helped the senior Soren realise his dream to install his son as Chief Minister before his own failing health rendered him unfit for negotiations. But governance is easier envisioned than executed in Jharkhand. For an idea of what awaits Soren Junior just consider this fact: among his supporters are seven legislators who are either independents or belong to smaller parties, many of them with dubious track records. The Congress has taken a calculated risk in Jharkhand, seeing it as part of a larger alliance-making exercise ahead of 2014. However, with its fortunes sinking across the country, it might need more than just smart seat adjustments to take it past the victory post.