THE Jharkhand Mukthi Morcha (JMM) is synonymous with the creation of the State of Jharkhand. It is its decades-long struggle that resulted in the carving out of the State from Bihar in November 2000. However, the political fortunes of the JMM in the State have not been consistent. The people of Jharkhand have given the party electoral blows from time to time, so much so that even Shibu Soren, the JMM president, was defeated in the byelection to the Tamar constituency in 2009. Soren vacated his Dumka Lok Sabha seat and was seeking election to the Assembly within the stipulated six months after assuming the office of Chief Minister in August 2008. His defeat caused a severe setback to the JMM.
Hence, the 2014 election is turning out to be a make-or-break battle for Soren, whose son Hemant Soren is the Chief Minister of the State. The JMM is fighting the elections in alliance with the Congress. It is contesting four of the 14 seats. Shibu Soren himself is contesting from Dumka, a constituency he represented in 1980, 1989, 1991, 1996, 2002, 2004 and 2009. But his principal opponent, Babulal Marandi, the former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Chief Minister who is now heading the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM), is giving the “dishom guru” of the JMM such a tough fight that he is forced to run from pillar to post to remain in the contest.
The party has its back to the wall in the other three seats, Rajmahal, Giridih and Jamshedpur, as well. There are many reasons why the main political force of Jharkhand is finding itself in dire straits. To start with, many senior leaders deserted the party in recent times, including Hemlal Murmu, a Member of the Legislative Assembly, and Kameshwar Baitha, a sitting Member of Parliament. Murmu, who has joined the BJP, is contesting from Rajmahal, while Baitha, who has joined the Trinamool Congress, is contesting from Palamu. Murmu was upset as he was denied the seat he had nurtured for so long, and Baitha, a former Maoist, was angry that his seat was handed over to the Congress, the JMM’s coalition partner.
This is not all. Simon Marandi, a Minister in the Hemant Soren government, has expressed his strong displeasure with the first family of the party. He had proposed the name of his son, Dinesh William Marandi, for the Rajmahal seat but it was allotted to Vijay Hansdah, the former Youth Congress leader who joined the JMM recently. Indications are that Simon Marandi is working against the JMM.
Central to the problems facing the JMM is the fact that it is increasingly becoming dynastic. To the larger public, the JMM is a corrupt organisation with no concern for the people.
According to political observers, the Soren family’s domination was on display in February during the party’s 35th foundation-day celebrations. Apart from Hemant Soren, Basant Soren, another son of Shibu Soren, also took centre stage on that day. Photographs of the Sorens dominated all the posters, hoardings and banners erected across Dumka for the rally. The pictures or names of Murmu and Marandi found no place in the publicity material.
Evidently, all this marks a new low in the affairs of the predominantly tribal party, which was perceived to represent the aspirations of the tribal people. It is now seen as an organisation interested in perpetuating the interests of the Soren family. In this context, the tribal society is viewing new regional parties such as the JVM as the true inheritors of the tribal identity. It is unlikely that the electoral management that the JMM has initiated to maintain its political significance in the State will bear fruit.