Coalition collapse

Print edition : February 08, 2013

Jharkhand Chief Minister Arjun Munda tendering his resignation to Governor Syed Ahmed at Raj Bhavan in Ranchi on January 8. Photo: PTI

Ranchi,Jharkhand 12th Jan 2013::After meeting with the Jharkhand Governor JMM leader Hemant Soren along with all the party leaders are coming out from the Raj Bhawan at Ranchi on Saturday.photo-Manob Chowdhury Photo: Manob Chowdhury

TRUE to convention, the ruling dispensation of elected representatives has once again collapsed in Jharkhand, leading to President’s Rule. In the 12 years of its existence, the State has repeatedly witnessed political convulsions that have led either to changes of Chief Minister, alterations of ruling coalitions, or the imposition of President’s Rule. The State has had eight Chief Ministers and two stints of President’s Rule in this period.

The latest crisis resulted in the downfall of the government run by the Arjun Munda-led coalition consisting of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Jharkhand Mukthi Morcha (JMM), the All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU) and the Janata Dal (United), and the third stint of President’s Rule, starting from the middle of January 2013.

Several of these repeated collapses of elected governments in Jharkhand have been motivated principally by different corporate interests, particularly those with roots in the State’s money-spinning mineral sector, and sometimes by tussles between them. In fact, the breach between the JMM and the BJP in May 2010, leading to the ouster of the Ministry led by JMM leader Shibu Soren, and the reconciliation of the two parties three months later to form a government under the leadership of the BJP’s Arjun Munda were widely perceived to be the handiwork of corporate interests. Developments in the BJP at that time related to accusations, some of them directed against BJP president Nitin Gadkari, about playing up to corporate interests. However, the current collapse is not accompanied by such overt accusations of intervention by corporate players. A large number of Jharkhand politicians are of the view that the downfall of the Munda government has more to do with active political considerations, particularly those relating to the next Lok Sabha elections.

In pursuing this larger political agenda, the players involved have also kept alive the convention of blame game that normally follows the collapse of a Ministry. Also, as is the wont, the parties have been advocating different political paths to come out of the impasse. The JMM, which made the government fall by withdrawing support to it, has accused the BJP of breach of trust. The JMM leadership contends that the BJP had agreed to concede the Chief Minister’s post to the party after two years of the Munda government. The BJP, on its part, has accused the JMM of trying to push private agendas in violation of the coalition spirit. The AJSU is of the view that the two big parties did not consult with each other in time and thus let small issues blow out of proportion. The JD(U) also blames the two big parties, which have 18 members each in the 82-member Legislative Assembly.

The JMM tried to work out a new coalition with the opposition Congress and continue in government, but the ruling party at the Centre preferred President’s Rule to a new coalition government. The BJP has demanded dissolution of the Assembly and fresh elections, but the imposition of President’s rule has, by all indications, put off elections by at least six months. The AJSU and the JD(U) have also supported the proposal for fresh elections at the earliest.

Beyond the blame game, there are larger political considerations that are driving the JMM, the BJP and the Congress. These are closely linked to the growing mass following and political clout of two relatively new parties, the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha-Prajatantrik (JVM-P) led by former BJP Chief Minister Babulal Marandi and the AJSU led by Sudesh Mahato, Deputy Chief Minister in the Munda Ministry. Both parties have been cutting into the JMM’s tribal and minority vote base.

The mass appeal of the JMM’s topmost leader, Shibu Soren, has been on the wane over the last couple of years, not least because of popular perceptions about inefficiency, corruption and collusion with crony capitalism, especially in the crucial mining sector. His son, Hemant Soren, who virtually controls the day-to-day affairs of the party, has not been able to come up with imaginative initiatives to recapture lost ground. As Deputy Chief Minister in the Munda government, Hemant Soren tried to advance some initiatives such as grants to madrassas, but his BJP bosses scuttled them. The JMM was hopeful that it could overcome the BJP’s opposition to schemes that would benefit the minority communities if it got the Chief Minister’s post, but the BJP leadership made it clear that it was in no mood to give up the Chief Minister’s position.

The JMM leadership is hopeful that the political situation after the collapse of the government could be used to strengthen its pro-tribal and pro-minority character through a number of mass movements and thus make an attempt to recapture some lost ground. However, this is not going to be easy since the JVM-P, which functioned as a forceful opposition during the two-and-a-half-year stint of the Munda government, has been consistently taking up the causes of the tribal people and the minority communities in the State. The party has also advanced a handful of movements against neoliberal economic policies in the mining sector and on the issue of foreign direct investment (FDI). The AJSU’s central motto has been militant advocacy of a Jharkhandi identity, especially of tribal communities.

The JMM was the original proponent of this type of politics, but repeated compromises with the national mainstream parties have dented its credibility. Here again, the JMM has tough challenges ahead in overcoming the AJSU’s shrill advocacy of a Jharkhandi identity. The JMM is also bound to be handicapped by a number of allegations against the party’s leadership, particularly Shibu Soren, whose involvement in the coal allotment case has been highlighted by the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) report. The names of a number of JMM legislators, including Shibu Soren’s daughter-in-law Sita Soren, have come up in connection with allegations regarding the cash-for-vote scam relating to the Rajya Sabha byelections in the State last year.

The Congress leadership in the State is aware that it is not in a position to attain political supremacy on its own. But the party is playing for time in order to choose the right partner in the next elections to the State Assembly and in the general elections. That is why it chose not to ally with the JMM now to form another government and preferred President’s Rule. The party’s leadership also hopes there will be a repeat of the good performance during President’s Rule in 2009 under the then Governor, K. Sankaranarayanan. The almost year-long Governor’s rule witnessed the initiation and implementation of several social welfare schemes, including some to strengthen the public distribution system in tribal areas. The Congress had sought to take political credit for this, highlighting the initiatives as programmes of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre. Over and above this, the party holds the not-so-secret weapon to browbeat the JMM leadership on the basis of the cases against its leaders.

The BJP’s broader political considerations are related to the assessment of its leadership and that of the Sangh Parivar led by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), that the saffron party did well for itself during the Munda regime, particularly in terms of consolidating the Hindu vote.

A senior RSS functionary from the State told Frontline that the Sangh Parivar was increasingly turning to the view that further continuation of the coalition with the JMM would lead to “minority appeasement initiatives” and that it would be counterproductive for the BJP. “So, in a sense we welcome the collapse of this government,” said the RSS functionary.

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