Amid speculation of his disqualification as MLA over a mining lease contract, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren on Friday met ruling alliance legislators twice at his official residence, apparently to chalk out a future strategy and send out a message of their unity.
Uncertainty over Mr. Soren’s government arose after the Election Commission (EC) reportedly sent a report recommending his disqualification over allegations that he allocated a mining lease to himself while holding the portfolio of Mines in 2021. The Governor had forwarded a complaint in this regard by BJP MLAs to the EC.
In the 81-member Jharkhand Assembly, the Soren-led ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) has 30 MLAs. Among its allies, Congress has 18, while Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) and National Congress Party have one each.
The BJP has 26 MLAs while alliance partner All Jharkhand Students Union has two, with support from two other legislators. The magic number to form the government in the State is 41.
March to Raj Bhavan
As many as 49 ruling alliance MLAs attended the meeting at Mr. Soren’s official residence and asserted their support for the Chief Minister. “Let the Governor tell us about the recommendation made by the EC and we’ll march to Raj Bhawan in numbers more than what is expected by the media and the Opposition BJP,” said State Congress president Rajesh Thakur.
The ruling party MLAs again met in evening after Mr. Soren came back after attending an official function at Netarhat and reposed their faith in him.
Meanwhile, the buzz in political circles is that the ruling party MLAs could be sent to a resort in Chhattisgarh. “We have learnt resort politics from the BJP,” said JMM legislator Mithilesh Thakur. However, Congress leader and Minister Banna Gupta said, “We don't need to go anywhere. We’re not the BJP”.
'We are intact'
JMM general secretary Supriyo Bhattacharya said, “The message is loud and clear that we are intact and ready to face any consequences.”
Till late on Friday evening, the ruling legislators were in Ranchi apparently waiting for a final call from their leader. “It’s all bogus to say we’re moving to another place,” said one of them while entering Mr. Soren’s official residence.
In case of his disqualification from membership of the Assembly, Mr. Soren, party sources said, would resign from his post and immediately stake claim with supporting MLAs before the Governor to form a fresh government and contest election within six months. “But if he is disqualified as an MLA and barred from contesting elections for a specific period of time, it will definitely become difficult for him to continue as Chief Minister”, said a State BJP leader.
“In that case, he may nominate someone from his family to the CM’s post, or can even challenge the decision in the apex court. There are several options before him,” a senior JMM leader told The Hindu requesting anonymity.
In February 2022, the BJP had submitted a memorandum to the Governor seeking Mr. Soren’s disqualification from the House for misusing his position to get the licence of a 0.88-acre stone mine located on the outskirts of Ranchi. The BJP sought Mr. Soren’s disqualification under Section 9(A) of the Representation of People Act.
However, Mr. Soren argued that the lease of the said mine was granted to him for 10 years on May 17, 2008, when he was not the Chief Minister and he applied for its (lease of the mine) renewal in 2018 but the application had lapsed and he again applied in 2019 for its renewal.
Satanic forces at work: CM
Meanwhile, speaking in Latehar, Mr. Soren claimed "satanic forces" were attempting to destabilise his democratically-elected government, and asserted that he will fight till the last drop of his blood.
"Not able to compete with us politically, our opponents are misusing the constitutional institutions. They are using ED, CBI, Lokpal and Income Tax Department to destabilise our government. But we are not worried about it. We have been given this mandate not by the opponents but by the people," he said.
"The State underwent COVID-19 situation for two years. Now, when we accelerated our pace of development, satanic forces are out of their holes to put up a blockade on our speed. Such forces can do anything but can never stop me from doing work for my people," he said. "I am the son of a tribal and fear is not there in a tribal's DNA. I will be fighting till the last drop of blood in my body," he said.
Mr. Soren claimed that a "gang of outside forces" was active in Jharkhand. "This gang had worked to destroy the State for the last 20 years. When they were dethroned in 2019, the conspirators could not tolerate it. If we stay here, they are going to have a difficult time ahead," he said.
(With PTI inputs)