Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren’s days are numbered. The chief minister is likely to put in his papers anytime once the verdict in the office-of-profit case (details below) is out in the open. The only academic question remains whether he resigns on his own or waits for Governor Ramesh Bains to pull the plug.
The governor returned to Ranchi on Thursday after consulting Home Minister Amit Shah. He is likely to act on the Election Commission’s recommendations to disqualify Soren as an MLA. The EC had acted on a complaint filed by a BJP leader, forwarded by the governor.
Also read: No letter yet: Jharkhand CM Soren on EC’s disqualification move
No immediate threat to govt
As of now, there is no immediate threat to Soren’s Jharkhand Mukti Morcha or JMM that heads the three-party UPA coalition. The other constituents are Congress and RJD. The State Assembly, with a strength of 81 seats, requires 41 for a simple majority. JMM has 30 seats followed by Congress’ 16 and RJD’s one.
Soren, however, continues to face threats from the BJP, which is constantly snapping at his heels. On July 31, three Congress MLAs from Jharkhand were detained by Kolkata police after a huge amount of cash was discovered in their vehicles. The Congress called it “BJP’s operation Lotus,” a conspiracy to topple its coalition government in Jharkhand. BJP dismissed the allegations.
In July last year, one of the three detained MLAs had alleged that he was offered ₹1 crore by “some people” to topple the government and had filed an FIR with the police. The state BJP leaders, however, maintain that they would prefer to seek a fresh mandate after the dissolution of the Assembly. BJP leaders Babulal Marandi and Raghubar Das are likely to keep the heat on the UPA coalition.
All in the family?
Though the next chief minister is likely to be elected from JMM, the selection process will not be easy for Hemant as he will face pressure from within the family. His father Shibu Soren heads JMM, but the party is practically run by Hemant. It would have been easy for Hemant to hand over the reins of the government to his father Soren, but he is too unwell to take up the mantle. The patriarch has been chief minister thrice and once a union minister in the Narasimha Rao’s cabinet.
Also read: Jharkhand Congress in turmoil amid Operation Lotus scare
Hemant’s younger brother Baswant Soren, an MLA, cannot take over as chief minister because he too is caught in the same mining scam. He is under the scanner and EC is likely to take a view of his case by August end. Kalpana Soren, Hemant’s wife, could have been another candidate. Hemant would have imagined running a regime like Lalu Yadav, who installed his wife Rabri Devi as chief minister in Bihar. That is unlikely because Kalpana, too, has been booked in a land allotment case. She could be booked under the Representation of Peoples Act. Hemant’s mother Rupi is another option Hemant could consider.
Sita Soren, who is the wife of Hemant’s deceased elder brother Durga, is a three-time MLA and an aspirant to the chief minister’s post. She was accused of receiving money for voting in the 2012 Rajya Sabha elections and was in jail for seven months before she got out on bail.
According to political observers in Jharkhand, Shibu Soren, who retains his popularity despite his advanced age, is affectionately called as ‘Guruji’ in the state, and is the last word in the family and JMM.
Also read: How Guwahati became epicentre for political tremors in Jharkhand
Finally, Shibu Soren may end up nominating a new chief minister. In case a selection is made outside the family, Shibu and Hemant are likely to choose a staunch loyalist so that they do some backseat driving.
What is the case?
The BJP, the petitioner in the case, has sought Soren’s disqualification for violating section 9(A) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, which deals with disqualification for government contracts.
The matter was referred to the EC after Hemant allegedly allocated a mining lease to himself and his family while he was the Mines Minister in 2021.
Under Article 192 of the Constitution, if any question arises as to whether a member of a House of the Legislature of a state has become subject to any of the disqualifications, the question shall be referred to the governor whose decision shall be final.
Hemant could be disqualified for up to six years.