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Jharkhand: Champai Soren is chief minister; poaching scare on JMM MLAs

'We don’t want to take any risk. We know the BJP’s tactics of intimidating and luring (other parties’ lawmakers),' said a senior JMM leader who accompanied the MLAs to Hyderabad

Animesh Bisoee, R. Balaji Ranchi, New Delhi Published 03.02.24, 05:44 AM
MLAs of the JMM-led alliance in Jharkhand board a flight for Hyderabad on Friday.

MLAs of the JMM-led alliance in Jharkhand board a flight for Hyderabad on Friday. PTI picture.

Nearly 40 MLAs of Jharkhand’s ruling coalition were flown in a chartered plane to Hyderabad in Congress-ruled Telangana minutes after the governor administered the oath to JMM leader and new chief minister Champai Soren on Friday afternoon, ending the political uncertainty in the state.

“We don’t want to take any risk. We know the BJP’s tactics of intimidating and luring (other parties’ lawmakers),” said a senior JMM leader who accompanied the MLAs to Hyderabad.


Champai told reporters: “We have submitted to the governor the signature of 43 MLAs (two more than the majority mark), but we now have the support of 47 MLAs and this will be proved during the floor test on February 5. Sending the MLAs to Hyderabad is part of our strategy to counter the BJP.”

Jharkhand was plunged into uncertainty after JMM leader Hemant Soren resigned as chief minister on Wednesday night, shortly before the Enforcement Directorate (ED) arrested him under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

Although Champai was immediately elected JMM legislative party leader and staked claim, governor C.P. Radhakrishnan did not invite him to form the government till late Thursday night, allowing speculation to swirl about possible “poaching” by the BJP.

“These few days (till the floor test) are crucial, and this (herding of MLAs to a ‘safe’ place) was planned well before Hemant Soren’s questioning (by the ED),” the JMM leader who spoke to this newspaper said.

The Supreme Court on Friday refused to entertain Hemant’s plea challenging his arrest and the cases against him, asking him to approach Jharkhand High Court where he had already filed a similar petition.

In the afternoon, Hemant was sent to five days’ ED custody by a special PMLA court in Ranchi.

The JMM’s lone Lok Sabha member, Rajmahal MP Vijay Hansda, lauded Hemant at Dumka during the party’s 45th foundation day celebrations.

“Our leader, Hemant Soren, willingly chose a difficult path by rejecting the BJP’s offer. But we are certain he will come out stronger from the conspiracy hatched by the BJP,” he said.

Hansda did not elaborate but sources close to him said Hemant had received an offer to dump the Opposition alliance and join hands with the BJP to form a new government in Jharkhand.

In August 2022, too, over 40 ruling coalition MLAs had been flown from Ranchi to Raipur in (then Congress-ruled) Chhattisgarh after a BJP petition seeking Hemant’s disqualification from the Assembly, in an office-of-profit case, created a sense of uncertainty.

Along with Champai, celebrated as “Jharkhand’s Tiger” for his role in the 1990s battle for Jharkhand’s statehood, Alamgir Alam (Congress) and Satyanand Bhokta (RJD) were sworn in as ministers.

In the 81-member Jharkhand Assembly, JMM has 30 MLAs while allies Congress, RJD and CPIML have 17, 1 and 1, respectively. With Hemant in custody and one MLA in Delhi for treatment, the ruling alliance is counting on 47 votes.

The BJP has 26 MLAs while allies AJSU and NCP have 2 and 1, respectively. There are three Independents.

Champai, who garlanded Birsa Munda’s bust in Ranchi immediately after the swearing-in and chaired a cabinet meeting, has decided on an Assembly session on February 5 and 6.

The principal secretary to the governor, Nitin Madan Kulkarni, told The Telegraph that Champai could have waited till February 12 since a new chief minister has “10 days from the swearing-in” to prove their majority.

Champai said he would try to accelerate Hemant’s “popular schemes”.

A Hemant confidant and senior JMM leader in Ranchi said it had been decided in consultation with Hemant’s father and JMM patriarch Shibu Soren and Champai that on February 5, Alam and Basant Soren (Hemant’s younger brother) would be sworn in as deputy chief ministers.

Champai, 67, a five-time MLA from Seraikela, said he would join Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, which was to enter Pakur in Jharkhand from Bengal on Friday evening.

In the Supreme Court, a special bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna, M.M. Sundresh and Bela M. Trivedi reasoned that accepting Soren’s effort to bypass the high court would encourage others, too, to directly approach the apex court.

“If we permit one person, then we have to permit everyone,” Justice Khanna observed.

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