Ranchi, Aug. 20: Nearly six weeks gone and still three numbers short of the 12-member Cabinet. The simple figure both conceals and reveals the magnitude of chaos prevalent in the JMM-Congress-RJD combine led by Hemant Soren.
Ask the fledgling coalition with an ambitious common minimum programme and a self-confessed eye on Assembly and Lok Sabha polls next year what it has done so far besides declaring a Rs 62-crore early drought relief package yesterday and get stumped.
Even after nearly six weeks, Hemant’s main worry remains Cabinet expansion. As a result, the young chief minister with important portfolios including Cabinet (vigilance), personnel, home, law and justice, information and public relations, planning and development, road construction and others so far not allocated to anyone else, is more intent on hobnobbing with the Congress to fill ministerial berths.
Hemant, who today visited Haj House and repeated his government’s stand to improve pilgrim amenities, offered a wisecrack when asked for the date for the third and final round of Cabinet expansion.
“You recommend me the names to fill up vacant berths. I will immediately make arrangements for administering them oath of office,” he said.
According to trends in Jharkhand, the chief minister distributes key portfolios such as rural development, drinking water and sanitation, science and technology, mines and geology to other ministers. This hasn’t yet happened.
In an incomplete Cabinet, where portfolio allocation is itself work-in-progress, the mood of existing ministers is also in a limbo.
To begin with, though ebullient tourism and housing minister Suresh Paswan claimed he spent over six hours at Project Building, he couldn’t say what his significant achievements were.
“I have inspected important tourist spots and am working out action plans to develop them. Yesterday, I went to Jagannathpur temple, Tagore Hill and Shaheed Chowk in Ranchi. Our new initiatives during Shravani Mela in Deoghar and Basukinath Dham in Dumka have been appreciated. My work is easier as I have a very energetic principal secretary (Sajal Chakraborty),” he said, without specifying initiatives or instances.
On housing, Paswan said officials were directed to submit “updated status reports”. “Appropriate actions will be taken as per norms. I seek suggestions from people on what I am expected to do,” he played to the gallery.
Finance minister Rajendra Prasad Singh, who heads commercial taxes, energy and health departments, has been holding review meetings. Today, he flagged off a Sadbhavna rally in Bermo to mark former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s birth anniversary.
Water resources minister Annapurna Devi, who also heads women and child welfare and registration departments, is not coming to office regularly. “Matters will get normal in a week or so,” she said.
The other lady in the Cabinet, human resources development minister Geetashree Oraon, who also heads art, culture and youth affairs department, drew flak and praise by advocating foolproof measures to ensure teaching jobs to Jharkhand “natives”.
Welfare minister Simon Marandi, who also heads rural works and NREP (special division) departments, has rarely been seen in office.
Senior JMM leaders and ministers Champai Soren and Haji Hussain Ansari are also missing in action. Insiders say they are unhappy with portfolios that disconnect them with their traditional vote banks. Soren wanted tribal welfare but got food and civil supplies and transport. Ansari was used to minority welfare but was given the chance to head building construction and industry departments.
Newbie urban development minister Jai Prakash Bhai Patel, who also heads excise and prohibition department, made headlines with his recent pilgrimage to Ajmer Sharif, Rajasthan, seeking divine blessings “for Jharkhand’s prosperity”.
Hemant watchers are oscillating between despair and hope that the pace will pick up.
A former Ranchi University professor and Jharkhand statehood movement think-tank B.P. Kesri said it was vital for Hemant to “ably steer his government ahead through troubled waters”.
“If he fails, it will raise a big question mark on the future of JMM. But on the bright side, Hemant’s political acumen during the formation of the coalition and floor test is to be appreciated. He has also shown the urge to introduce mass welfare initiatives. But, there are several battles within the party and alliance,” Kesri said.