Can Jharkhand find a new way away from Soren & Prez Rule?

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Jharkhand is in the doldrums yet again and so is the BJP, the party which was leading the alliance at the Centre during the formation of the state in 2000.

The state has witnessed a horrible political instability in its short lifetime and the latest move by Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) to withdraw support to the BJP-led government and the subsequent resignation by Chief Minister Arjun Munda means that the state is set to get its ninth government in 12 years.

Munda, along with JMM chief Shibu Soren, had been the CM thrice each while Babulal Marandi and Madhu Koda served a term each. The longest-serving government existed over a period of two-and-half years while the shortest one survived just 11 days.

Shibu Soren along with Hemant Soren

The first crisis emerged in early 2003 when the erstwhile Samata Party and Vananchal Congress crossed the floor and dumped Babulal Marandi, who headed the BJP-led NDA government in the state. The BJP's top leadership pacified the dissidents, who wanted a change of the chief minister by replacing Marandi with Arjun Munda, but a disgusted Marandi left the party four years later. Munda became the CM following a brief tenure of Shibu Soren after the state's assembly election in 2005 witnessed a big drama unfolding.

The then Governor, Syed Sibtey Razi, was accused of murdering democracy when he first invited Soren to form the government although the NDA had more MLAs. But even after Munda became the CM, the BJP's share of problems did not end. It had denied an election ticket to Koda and although he supported the NDA after winning as an Independent in 2005, he unsettled the Munda government the very next year, along with three other Independent MLAs.

The UPA plunged into the fray and backed Koda as the next CM. The Koda government, which was in power for nearly two years, had representation of various outfits including the unpredictable JMM. It was also the darkest period in Jharkhand's politics. In August 2008, the JMM pulled out of the Koda government after Soren staked claim for the CM's post. The Koda government fell soon and Soren became the CM. But again for a few months, he suffered a humiliating defeat in the Tamar assembly bypoll to a novice and President's Rule was imposed in the state.

Soren again returned to become the CM in Dec 2009 but five months later, his government was toppled after the BJP withdrew support and neither the Congress nor the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Parajatantrik) committing to back him. Soren had infact, voted along with the Congress in a trust vote in the Parliament despite holding an alliance with the BJP.

When asked about this, his supporters said the veteran leader was suffering from the Alzheimer's disease and hence did not remember that he was a part of the NDA! President's Rule was proclaimed in the state yet again before the BJP allied with JMM again in Sept 2010 in the 'state's interest'.

But that interest did not remain mutual and the two parties parted ways before the completion of three years. The JMM allegedly demanded key portfolios and cash and was also not happy with the chief minister and ultimately decided to withdraw support following a disturbed relation over a long period of time.

It seems President's Rule is set to be imposed on the state yet again. A section of the Congress party is in favour of that more than allying with the JMM, for instance. The party will feel apprehensive to support Soren, an accused leader, again and will look to find new allies. Marandi, on the other hand, is seeking fresh polls and may emerge an important player in the near future. He, however, is keeping an equidistant with both the Congress and the BJP.

The problem with Jharkhand politics is that the strong tribal movement that had successfully led the struggle for a separate state has failed to transform itself into a strong democratic politics backed by a coherent ideology. The JMM, which is a strong regional party in the state, has been a key political player but its leadership is too opportunistic to lend any credibility to the party's functioning.

Hence, we see Soren becoming the CM three times but failing to survive for long. He also did not allow other parties to carry on for long. The instability has continued to hurt institutional politics and several challenges that the state face have remained largely unaddressed.

Maoist menace, tribal backwardness, power shortage, displacement caused by industrial development and price rise are some of the pressing problems of the poor people of the mineral-rich state and the fragile administration and government look little efficient in resolving the issues.

Shibu Soren is often portrayed by the country's mainstream media as a 'culprit on the run' but his local base is still a strong one and even after the repeated instances of the JMM holding the state politics to ransom, Soren remains one of the main frontrunners for the other major player.

Marandi is more choosy about his electoral partners. National parties like the BJP and Congress, because of this lack of option, are forced to go along with Soren despite the latter's unpredictability. The other option, of course, is President's Rule.

Can the 12-year-old state find a third alternative?

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