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Allies make veiled threats, look for options

Ranchi, Aug. 14: JMM scion and chief minister Hemant Soren and state Congress today sent mutual feelers to each other on scouting for like-minded alliance partners or going alone in the upcoming Assembly election if both insist on hogging the most seats in the pre-poll pact.

As matters now stand, of the 81 Assembly seats, the JMM wants to contest in 45 but the Congress is determined to fight in 38. The JMM also wants the Congress to accommodate RJD in rest of the seats.The arithmetic pleases none and someone will have to bend. But, who has the bigger bargaining chip now is open to question.

When it comes to speaking about each other, the Congress and the JMM are wary. Both partners are afraid of giving in to each other but neither side wants to declare divorce publicly at the moment for fear of giving their common enemy BJP an edge.

Hemant, addressing a news conference today after the JMM’s central working committee meeting, said his party was a part of the UPA alliance and he could go to “any extent to defeat the NDA in Jharkhand”.

“Most of our party members want an alliance and we favour it. Party chief Shibu Soren has been authorised to discuss this matter with central Congress. Jharkhand needs a majority government and we discussed how to stop the BJP. The JMM will start its political activities from August 23 at all districts,” Hemant told the media.

But inside the meeting, he told party members that the JMM can alone garner majority. And in case the alliance with the Congress breaks, other “like-minded and local forces” will be roped into the JMM fold.

On his part, state Congress president Sukhdeo Bhagat said: “The question of an alliance or no alliance with the JMM or whether the Congress should go alone in the elections will be decided by the central leadership. Alliance partners are required to take an all-agreed formula in the seat-sharing exercise. We have been asked to stay prepared to contest all 81 Assembly seats.”

Tall talk of “going alone” apart, 13 months into power, both JMM and Congress are standing on a weak wicket as far as reputation for governance goes. Also, the BJP’s landslide win in Lok Sabha polls has shaken other affiliations, national and regional.

Before Lok Sabha elections, the Congress dictated terms to allies, retaining nine of 14 seats and giving four to JMM and one to RJD, but ended up losing all nine.

The JMM gave the only competition to the BJP juggernaut by winning two seats out of the four it was allowed to contest by the Congress.

Now, the only point in which they can see eye-to-eye perhaps is stopping the NDA (read BJP) from coming to power with an absolute majority.

A political watcher said that options were “always open”.

“Both the Congress and the JMM did not benefit from each other’s rub-off in Lok Sabha polls. In the Assembly elections, when local issues come into play, we should not forget that the JMM is not the sole claimant for tribal votes. There’s JVM too. Plus, Ajsu has an OBC vote bank. The Congress can work on stitching a tribal-OBC-minority-upper caste vote bank through a strategic combination,” he said.