The Hemant Soren government in Jharkhand has proved its majority amid the continuing uncertainty over the Chief Minister’s membership of the State Legislative Assembly. Mr. Soren is accused of allotting a mining lease to himself, an act that can potentially cost him his Assembly seat. In the 81-member strong Assembly, the ruling alliance of Mr. Soren’s Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, the Congress, NCP, RJD and CPI(M-L) had 48 votes in Tuesday’s vote of confidence, a comfortable majority. With 26 seats, the BJP has been left far behind but it has continued nurturing hope of seizing power that it had not won in the polls. The JMM-led alliance has been wobbly despite its numerical dominance in the face of the BJP’s constant threats of sabotage. Whispers regarding an ongoing scheme to upend the State government, as in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, came to the fore with the arrest of three Congress MLAs in neighbouring West Bengal on July 30 with cash that they allegedly received for defecting. With the sword of disqualification hanging over the head of the CM, the ruling alliance managed to keep its MLAs together and initiated a confidence motion. The BJP appears to have developed second thoughts, and is unsure of its strategy to deal with Mr. Soren. The last word has not been said, but for now, the Soren government — and the alliance — has survived.
Governor Ramesh Bais’s silence regarding Mr. Soren’s disqualification as MLA is confounding — or perhaps too transparent — for it mirrors the ambiguity of the BJP. Mr. Bais is expected to announce whether Mr. Soren stands disqualified, taking into consideration the opinion of the Election Commission of India (ECI) that he had received in August. There is no official word from the Governor on the ECI’s letter, but State BJP leaders are confident that the disqualification has been recommended. The process was triggered in February 2022 when the BJP complained to the Governor that Mr. Soren had got a mining lease from the State, and hence was in violation of Section 9(A) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. There are several questions that will naturally follow if he were to be disqualified, the most important of them being whether he would be able to continue as Chief Minister. A Chief Minister can be in office without being a member of the legislature for up to six months. However, it would not be proper for a person who is disqualified as MLA for violating the law to continue as Chief Minister using a technical fig leaf. A more immediate question of impropriety is the Governor’s refusal to announce his decision and end the uncertainty, at least on one question. A Governor has no reason to try to tilt the scales in favour of or against any political party, through acts of omission or commission. Mr. Bais should take a decision and announce it at once.