Jharkhand: Sympathy factor 

Arrest of JMM leader and until-recently Chief Minister Hemant Soren may be just what opposition in Jharkhand needs in its fight against resurgent BJP.

Published : Mar 31, 2024 18:44 IST - 6 MINS READ

Former Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren’s wife, Kalpana Soren, arrives at Barhet to address a public meeting on March 10.

Former Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren’s wife, Kalpana Soren, arrives at Barhet to address a public meeting on March 10. | Photo Credit: Somnath Sen/ANI

In the national discourse, Jharkhand comes up mostly during elections and hardly for any good reasons. Google Jharkhand today and you will get reports about the gang rape of a Spanish tourist while she was on a bike tour, the ED raids on a Congress leader and a policeman close to him, and news relating to former Chief Minister Hemant Soren jailed on corruption charges.

A State that sends 14 members to the Lok Sabha has much more to be said about it than just this. Former Indian cricket team captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni hails from Ranchi, a Lok Sabha seat that Minoo Masani (well-known advocate, freedom fighter, editor, and a contemporary of Jawaharlal Nehru and Jayaprakash Narayan) won as an independent candidate in 1957. The Hazaribagh Lok Sabha seat was represented in the past by former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha.

Also Read | Can Congress, weakened by recent losses, hold its ground against resurgent BJP?

The election this time will be held in four phases: May 13, May 20, May 25, and June 1. Women voters outnumber male voters in four seats: Rajmahal, Singhbhum, Khunti, and Lohardaga.

Predominantly rural, with 76 per cent of its population residing in villages and small townships, Jharkhand has 5 administrative divisions and 24 districts. In the 2019 election, the BJP won as many as 11 seats. The All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU), the Congress, and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) got one each. The Modi juggernaut felled Shibu Soren, the JMM patriarch and tribal icon, and the State’s first Chief Minister Babulal Marandi, a five-term MP and the then head of the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik), or JVM(P). Neither of them is contesting this time.

In the Assembly election in November-December that year, the BJP could bag only 25 of the 81 seats, while the JMM-Congress-Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) alliance won 47 seats. The JMM on its own won 30 seats, up from 19 in 2014; the Congress nearly tripled its tally from 6 to 17; and the other two got 1 each.

The BJP could not retain its ally AJSU in that election, and this had an impact on its performance. The BJP, however, has been the dominant force in recent Lok Sabha elections in Jharkhand. The opposition’s last big show was in 2004, when the Congress-JMM-RJD-CPI(M) alliance won 13 of the 14 seats, notching up a 45 per cent vote share. The BJP, which won just 1 seat, managed to win 8 seats in 2009, 12 in 2014, and 11 in 2019.

The experiment of appointing a non-tribal Chief Minister in 2014 in a State with a tribal population of 26 per cent earned the BJP its just deserts in 2019, when both the party and the Chief Minister lost. The BJP went back to the drawing board, recalibrated its strategy, and appointed Babulal Marandi as its State unit chief. And he is delivering.

Widening the existing divide in the Soren family, the BJP has inducted Sita Soren, three-term JMM MLA from Jama and wife of the late Durga Soren, elder son of Shibu Soren. Sita was not happy with all the attention showered on the Hemant Soren family in the JMM.

“If Sita comes to Ram, it is natural. Everyone is welcome,” said Marandi talking about her “suffering and humiliation” in the Soren family and the JMM. The BJP has fielded her from Dumka in the Soren bastion of Santhal Pargana. In the past, stalwarts such as Suraj Mandal, Hemlal Murmu, Stephen Marandi, and Simon Marandi, who quit the JMM for the BJP, lost elections. The BJP is hoping that Sita Soren might break this trend.

An angry JMM has released an old video clip of Babulal Marandi where he, as the JVM(P) leader in 2014, condemned the BJP for poaching six MLAs of his party. He had also written to the Assembly Speaker alleging that the BJP had a “long and chequered history of toppling elected governments by poaching and buying lawmakers”.

  • The BJP has been the dominant force in Lok Sabha elections in Jharkhand. 
  • But the arrest of Hemant Soren may swing sympathy factor in favour of JMM.
  • There have been many cross-overs in the months leading up to the election.

Defections in election season

In February, the Congress’ lone MP, Geeta Koda, wife of former Chief Minister Madhu Koda, joined the BJP. She will contest from Singhbhum, the seat she won in 2019, defeating the BJP veteran Laxman Gilua. An internal survey of the BJP apparently suggested that the party would lose the seat again if Geeta Koda contested from the opposition camp, so the party inducted her.

But the rampant poaching of MLAs has affected the BJP too. Its chief whip, Jai Prakash Bhai Patel, joined the Congress on March 20.

Once Marandi’s rival in the BJP, Arjun Munda, the Union Tribal Affairs Minister, will contest again from Khunti, which he won in 2019 by fewer than 1,500 votes in a close fight against the Congress. Munda faces a tough challenge, with the sympathy factor working in favour of the opposition after Hemant Soren’s arrest.

The arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has resonated across Jharkhand, where too the sitting Chief Minister was arrested in February in a very similar fashion.

At a public gathering held in Dumka on March 22, Hemant Soren’s wife, Kalpana Soren, reached out to the people, striking an emotional chord: “Your Hemant dada was put inside jail in the middle of his efforts to make your life better. Take advantage of the schemes initiated by him. This is the karmabhoomi of Dhishom Guru [Shibu Soren] as well as the karmabhoomi of Hemant bhaiya, Hemant dada, and Hemant beta [son].”

Turbulence is not new to Jharkhand’s political climate

In the complex polity of Jharkhand, turbulence is not new. From the time it was carved out of Bihar in 2000 by the NDA government led by A.B. Vajpayee, it has seen 12 Chief Ministers, with the shortest tenure for a Chief Minister being just 10 days (Shibu Soren in March 2005). It was the first State to make an independent MLA, Madhu Koda, Chief Minister (September 2006 to August 2008).

Also Read | With Champai Soren installed as Chief Minister, JMM hopes to shore up support before election

It is possibly the only State where three Chief Ministers have been jailed (Shibu Soren, Hemant Soren, and Madhu Koda) in various cases ranging from money laundering to kidnapping and murder, and where a leader with just five MLAs (Sudesh Mahato of AJSU) became Deputy Chief Minister twice in two rival alliances.

With political poaching becoming a menace since it first began almost two decades ago, Jharkhand has seen three stints of President’s Rule so far. Recently the State was without a Chief Minister for nearly 40 hours, between Hemant Soren’s resignation on January 31 and the new Chief Minister Champai Soren’s oath-taking on February 2.

The naturally spectacular State of Jharkhand also provides unending political spectacle to viewers and reviewers of politics.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment