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Cong takes the plunge with JMM

- Hemant likely CM, leaders in Delhi to finalise swearing-in date

New Delhi/Ranchi, July 2: For the first time since the creation of Jharkhand, Congress seems all set to become a part of a government in the state with JMM’s Hemant Soren as chief minister.

Congress leaders refused to reveal details of the deal that was struck after a series of meetings in Ranchi last night and today, but sources confirmed that a government was likely to be installed within the next few days with Lalu Prasad’s RJD also a part of the dispensation.

Primary negotiators from the JMM, including Hemant, his father Shibu Soren, Mathura Mahto and Champai Soren, junked the idea of outside support as such an arrangement lacked political stability — a la Madhu Koda’s tenure. No government in the state has completed 1,000 days, let alone a full five-year term.

Under the formula discussed last night and formalised this morning, the Congress was likely to get five berths in the new ministry while JMM had agreed on four. The RJD and Independents were likely to get two and one berth each.

Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) would extend outside support. There was a deadlock over the Speaker’s choice, but the JMM was understood to have staked claim to the post.

The new coalition would need at least 41 MLAs in House of 82 (1 nominated). With the JMM’s 18, Congress’s 13, RJD’s 5 and the JD(U)’s 2, the coalition would require the support of the Independents which it was confident of getting.

“We have completed our talkůminor differences will be discussed and sorted out soon,” Hemant told the media in Ranchi before leaving for New Delhi.

Today’s deal, in the making since Sunday’s Hul Diwas celebrations in Dumka and Pakur in the Santhal Pargana region, was sealed only after the JMM agreed to the Congress demand for an electoral alliance for the 2014 parliamentary elections.

Leading the Congress negotiations were party general secretaries B.K. Hariprasad and Shakeel Ahmed, state party chief Sukhdeo Bhagat, legislature party leader Rajendra Prasad Singh and MLA Sarfaraz Ahmed. All of them met the Sorens this morning at their Morabadi residence in Ranchi.

While Congress leaders said the party would get a “good number of seats”, sources said the JMM had agreed to give 8 of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in the state.

The RJD may get two but nobody was willing to confirm this. For RJD’s involvement makes it a bit complicated for the Congress. While Lalu was desperate for a tie-up in Bihar, the Nitish Kumar factor had created a serious dilemma for the Congress, an issue yet not resolved.

If the Congress does not align with the RJD in Bihar, there would be repercussions on the stability of the Jharkhand government. But the central leadership seems to have decided to run the risk hoping that many other possibilities would open up after the formation of the government.

“Talks were fruitful and we are hopeful of a positive outcome. Things will be clear within a week. We are trying to bring like-minded political forces under a single umbrella,” Bhagat told the media soon after the morning meeting.

The agreement between the two parties meant that Hemant Soren’s longtime ambition of becoming chief minister looked like materialising.

“They wanted a government and we wanted more seats for the parliamentary elections in Jharkhand. This is a win-win for both of us. We expect a final announcement by the end of July 8,” a senior Congress leader confided.

Senior members of the JMM and Congress left for Delhi today on the same service flight, an indication of a new-found bonhomie.

On board the afternoon flight were Hariprasad, Bhagat, former Union minister Subodh Kant Sahay, MLA Ahmed of the Congress and Hemant and Champai Soren of the JMM.

Hariprasad was likely to meet A.K. Antony in Delhi tonight. Later, he was scheduled to submit a report to the party high command before finalising a date for the oath-taking ceremony.

Both parties agreed there was enough time to sort out the nitty-gritty, given that six months of President’s Rule in Jharkhand were scheduled to end on July 18.

The Congress has in the past supported two governments from outside. The first in 2006, when it propped up Madhu Koda, an Independent, as the chief minister in a bizarre compromise that led to disastrous consequences and then in 2008, when it supported Shibu Soren.

This time, the Congress made it clear it would not support Soren Senior but had no objection to doing business with his son, Hemant, who was seen as less crafty.

The JMM of course never had any ideological qualms about joining hands with the BJP in the past. The Congress leadership, which was not in favour of aligning with the JMM initially, changed its mind as the state’s political dynamics didn’t indicate revival of its fortunes. The party faced the distinct possibility of losing its solitary Lok Sabha seat, Subodh Kant Sahay’s from capital Ranchi.

The leadership thought a Congress-JMM alliance would pose a formidable challenge to the BJP which won seven Lok Sabha seats in the last election. Though the JMM won only two seats, it still retains its support base among tribals. Though the JMM had been trying to sew up an alternative coalition with the Congress for long, Sonia Gandhi herself was not inclined to the idea as the former UPA ally suffered not only an image problem but was largely viewed as fickle-minded.

But such dogmas are usually forgotten in war-time, particularly when the rival camp is led by the rampaging Narendra Modi. Every seat will carry a high value in the 2014 electoral battle. Asked if Soren Senior would become a minister at the Centre, a Congress leader told The Telegraph, “We can only confirm that the UPA will get a new ally, nothing else.”