Health minister Rajendra Prasad Singh (centre) flanked by Ranchi MP Subodh Kant Sahay (right) and Stephen Marandi during the Congress workers’ meeting in Ranchi on Sunday. Picture by Hardeep Singh
Ranchi, Sept. 22: The Congress-JMM alliance in Jharkhand is two months old in its latest edition, but JMM patriarch Shibu Soren has stirred up a hornet’s nest by hinting at “renegotiations” of the seat-sharing agreement with the Congress for Lok Sabha polls clinched by his son and chief minister Hemant.
Ahead of the government formation exercise in July, Hemant had brokered a deal with central Congress leadership on seat-sharing numbers — 10 for Congress and four for JMM. In the recent days, Soren Senior has said enough for state Congress to believe the JMM wants at least seven seats, including Dumka, Godda and Rajmahal in Santhal Pargana, the last two of which Congress is keen to contest.
In Ranchi yesterday, Soren Senior assured his clamouring party MLAs and workers during the party’s executive meeting that he would take a call on the seat-sharing formula at “the right moment”.
The statement instantly created huge rumblings of “trust deficit” in the Congress camp. State Congress chief Sukhdeo Bhagat told Hemant in no uncertain terms that such statements only created “trust deficit between alliance partners”. “The JMM as the partner of UPA, which heads the coalition government, has bigger a role and responsibility,” Bhagat is learnt to have reminded Hemant.
In reply, Hemant is understood to have requested Bhagat not to draw “too much meaning into his father’s statement, which the dutiful son defended as being “only political in nature”.
Even as Congressmen figure out the father and son, the rift is growing.
“After due deliberations with our central leaders, JMM had accepted and announced seat-sharing numbers. Now, they want to renegotiate because they have apparently found it unprofitable. We are not going to entertain them,” senior Congress leader and minister in the Hemant Soren government Rajendra Prasad Singh said.
JMM’s central secretary Supriyo Bhattacharya gave a quick rebuttal. “What is the fuss if our leader wants the party to be prepared for all 14 Parliamentary seats? In politics, nothing is permanent. Does the Congress have 10 faces who can win 10 seats?” he asked.
That the Congress is jittery about venturing out too far alone on the poll chessboard in Jharkhand is evident as despite its stormy relationship with JMM, it chose to back Hemant’s government keeping Lok Sabha alliance in mind.
It is now an open secret that the JMM wants “at least seven” of the 14 seats. But the national party isn’t in a mood to kowtow to the demands of its regional ally. “So far, both parties have agreed on the number of seats. The distribution of respective constituencies will be finalised by November-end. But we want to fight Godda and Rajmahal in Santhal Pargana. We can’t gift them to the JMM to satisfy its whims. Do you think our regular worker meets and rallies in Santhal Pargana are a source of fun?” a Congress leader said.
But there are many in the JMM who feel the “dominance” of the Congress in seat-sharing would harm the party. A senior JMM leader summed up the mood. “The Congress has no business treating us as a junior ally. It is trying to dominate us at the state government level. Secondly, the Congress-dominated Centre has snubbed our demand for special status and package for Jharkhand,” he said.
The Congress, which doesn’t enjoy a dependable electoral vote bank in Jharkhand, also knows it has to perform a balancing act with mercurial ally JMM.
Before the 2009 general elections, the JMM had walked out on the Congress-led UPA. The outcome was embarrassing as the Congress ended up with a single seat, Ranchi, which was won by Subodh Kant Sahay.