In his remarks in Jharkhand Assembly ahead of the trust vote, Chief Minister Champai Soren referred to his predecessor as “Hemant Babu” and added that he will run the government as “Hemant Soren Part 2”. The jailed former Chief Minister, who was forced to resign amid allegations of money laundering, also addressed the House for a longer duration than the incumbent. Overall, Champai Soren was facing the trust vote, but Hemant Soren led the charge.
The 48-year-old working president of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, who started his political career in the shadow of his father and party founder Shibu Soren, has surprised many over the past week with deft political moves that helped save the government in Jharkhand. Here’s how Hemant Soren managed to prevent President’s rule in the state and facilitate a smooth transfer of power to his close aide.
A Chief Minister Goes ‘Missing’
Last Monday, a team of Enforcement Directorate officials reached Hemant Soren’s Delhi residence and conducted searches in connection with the money laundering case against him. Official sources said Mr Soren was untraceable and even his staff members were clueless about his whereabouts. The BJP was quick to seize the opportunity and declare the Chief Minister “missing” and claim that Jharkhand was in the middle of a constitutional crisis. The JMM, however, kept assuring that they are in touch with Hemant Soren and he will appear before the agency on January 31. The plane on which Hemant Soren had reached Delhi remained parked in the airport, and ED officials said they had no idea about where he was.
On January 30, Hemant Soren surfaced in Ranchi and met MLAs of the ruling coalition of JMM, Congress and RJD. It appears that Mr Soren managed to pull off a rather challenging feat for a Chief Minister — a 1,300 km road trip dodging media, enforcement agencies and tool booth cameras.
In fact, Leader of Opposition in Jharkhand Assembly, Babulal Marandi, had cited media reports to claim that Mr Soren left his Delhi residence on foot on Sunday night. It is also unclear how the Chief Minister knew that ED officials would raid his house the next day and left just in time.
The Critical Signature Move
Hemant Soren was questioned by ED officials through Wednesday and when it became clear that he would be arrested, he pulled off a bold move that may have just saved his government. Hemant Soren refused to sign the arrest memo before he resigned as Chief Minister, according to ED sources. The arrest of a sitting Chief Minister would have created the possibility of the imposition of President’s rule in the state on the ground of Constitutional crisis.
Following his refusal to sign the memo, ED officials took Hemant Soren to the Governor’s residence. But when he went there, top legislators from the ruling coalition were with him. Immediately after Hemant Soren stepped down, Champai Soren staked claim to form the government.
Earlier, Champai Soren was elected leader of JMM’s legislative party, putting an end to speculation that Hemant Soren may pass the baton to his wife Kalpana. In fact, the opposition to the choice of Kalpana Soren as Chief Minister came from within the Soren family. Hemant Soren’s sister-in-law Sita, JMM MLA from Jama, told news agency PTI that she would oppose any move to make Kalpana Soren the chief minister because she “has no political experience”. The party leadership, in no mood to risk a rift in the ranks at this critical point, went for the safer option – Shibu Soren’s long-term aide, 67-year-old Champai Soren.
The Long Wait Before Oath
JMM and the Congress have accused Governor CP Radhakrishnan of delaying the government formation in Jharkhand, despite Champai Soren staking claim soon after Hemant Soren stepped down on January 31. On February 1, Champai Soren wrote to the Governor, saying that there is no government in Jharkhand for 18 hours and urging him to take immediate steps. Later that day, he and other leaders of the JMM-Congress alliance met the Governor. In fact, the MLAs backing Champai Soren also recorded a roll call of sorts and showed it to the Governor as a proof of majority.
The next day, Champai Soren took oath as Jharkhand Chief Minister along with two deputies, Congress’s Alamgir Alam and RJD’s Satyanand Bhokta.
Keeping The Flock Together
Champai Soren had taken the oath, but the real battle was the floor test held today. As Champai Soren and his two deputies took the oath, MLAs in the ruling coalition were put on a flight to Hyderabad. They were lodged in a private resort in Hyderabad to prevent any poaching attempt by the BJP ahead of the crucial floor test. In the meantime, Hemant Soren put in a request in court for permission to attend the majority vote. The JMM leadership also started reaching out to miffed MLAs such as Lobin Hembrom.
Just ahead of the floor test, the MLAs camping in Hyderabad were flown back to Ranchi. Hemant Soren, too, reached the Assembly in time. The result: Champai Soren cleared the trust vote with 47 votes in his favour. Twenty-nine votes were cast against him.