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Will Jharkhand go the Maharashtra-Bihar way?

CM Hemant Soren may be disqualified as an MLA in the office-of-profit case

soren-pti Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren gestures to the media after a state cabinet meeting in Ranchi | PTI

Resort politics is back - this time it's in Jharkhand. The state has plunged into a political crisis, after the Election Commission of India, reportedly, recommended the disqualification of Chief Minister Hemant Soren in the office-of-profit case. It is the third state in as many months that is witnessing political upheavals. The other two – Maharashtra and Bihar - witnessed a realignment of alliances, and new governments being installed.

The Jharkhand crisis marks another episode of the BJP's faceoff with opposition parties, especially the regional ones which are strong forces in their states.

The Hemant Soren government has been facing the heat from investigating agencies in illegal mining case. The Enforcement Directorate had arrested IAS officer Pooja Singhal in May this year after investigations in the MNREGA. Rs 17 crore cash was found in the raids. In July, ED arrested Soren's political aide in an alleged money-laundering case. BJP leaders complained to the governor that Soren gave a mine to himself, which, they said, was a case of office-of-profit. After the probe, the EC recommended the CM's disqualification. The governor's final word is awaited over the matter.

While disqualification will be limited to Soren's MLA post, he will then have to resign from the CM's post. However, he can still return as the chief minister, after his party elects him leader of the legislative group. He will then have six months to get elected as an MLA.

Soren called a meeting of all the MLAs of the alliance, and later put them on buses to a resort in Khunti. Pictures of the CM taking boat rides with fellow MLAs were released to show he has their support. The numbers – Jharkhan Mukti Morcha 30, Congress 18, and RJD 1 – may still put the alliance much ahead of the BJP ( 26) in the 81-member assembly. However, given what happened in Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand in the past, the ruling side will be jittery.

After Nitish Kumar's switch in Bihar, both states - as Jharkhand was part of Bihar before 2000 - are opposition-ruled. Jharkhand is important in BJP's scheme of things as the party's experiment to give a non-tribal CM Raghubar Das was not successful as it could not win the last elections. The state has substantial percentage of tribals – over 26 per cent – whom the BJP has been wooing in the last two years with a number of initiatives, reaching its peak with making a tribal leader, Droupadi Murmu, the President. The state has 14 Lok Sabha seats, of which the BJP had won 12, both in 2014 and 2019 elections. In 22 years of the state's formation, the BJP had held power for half of the time, while the rest were divided between President's rule and the JMM.

Das was the first CM to complete five years in office. For the BJP, the state is a primary ground for its politics. So, it will like to take control of the state which it has ruled the most. With Soren's disqualification, the BJP has got an entry point to assert itself.

The BJP has already demanded that fresh elections be held in the state after Soren's disqualification.


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