Ranchi, Oct. 1: Signalling that it would not play second fiddle to its allies in the coming election, the JMM today announced Shibu Soren would be the chief ministerial candidate of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
The decision was taken at a meeting of the party's central committee. UPA partners, Congress and Rashtriya Janata Dal, have not yet reacted to the decision. Senior JMM leaders, however, made it clear that there was no alternative to Soren. 'The UPA will contest the poll under the leadership of Guruji. There is no leader in Jharkhand who commands so much support,' Rajya Sabha member Stephen Marandi said.
In the run-up to the poll, which is in February 2005, the Congress and the RJD have made statements suggesting they would not allow the JMM to walk away with the lion's share of the seats. Union food processing minister and Ranchi MP, Subodh Kant Sahay, had triggered howls of protest in the JMM camp by asserting a few weeks ago that it was not imperative that the Lok Sabha alliance would continue for the Assembly poll.
The charismatic tribal leader himself brushed aside the possibility of any opposition to the move from the state units of the allies, saying their reaction would 'hardly matter' as all decisions will be taken in New Delhi.
Soren was emphatic that the party would not give up its claim on the two berths in the Manmohan Singh ministry. 'We have not given up our rights,' he said. The JMM chief had to resign as coal minister after a warrant was issued against him by a court in Jamtara in the Chirudih massacre case of 1975.
'The matter will be sorted out soon. After I was released, I have not spoken on the issue with either Prime Minister Manmohan Singh or Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. We will discuss this after the Maharashtra election is over,' he said.
The central committee has already begun looking for a 'safe Assembly seat' for Soren, which, sources said, would be somewhere in Santhal Pargana. The party has shortlisted the constituency vacated by Hemlal Murmu and the one represented by Durga Soren, sources said.
The party decided that Soren would contest the Assembly poll after two days of deliberations.
'Hum azaad hain. Kahin se bhi chunao lad sakte hai. Centre bhi apna hai aur rajya bhi apna hai (I am free and can contest the election from anywhere. The Centre is ours, so is the state) ,' Soren said.