Amid ongoing nationwide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, several Opposition leaders gathered on stage in Ranchi’s Morabadi Maidan as Hemant Soren took oath as the 11th chief minister of Jharkhand on Sunday afternoon.
In the evening, in its first decision, the new Cabinet in the state dropped all cases registered against people during the Pathalgadi movement in 2017-18, and the protests that followed the attempts by the previous Raghubar Das government to tweak the Chhotanagpur and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act in 2016.
In results declared on December 23, an alliance of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Congress, and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) won 47 seats in the 81-member Assembly, taking the state away from the BJP, which saw its tally fall to 25 from the 37 it won in 2014.
Rahul, Mamata in; some key absences
Four other MLAs — three from the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) and one from the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) — too have extended unconditional support to the pre-poll coalition.
Governor Draupadi Murmu administered the oath of office and secrecy to the 44-year-old Hemant Soren, son of Shibu Soren, leader of the JMM and a former chief minister of Jharkhand. Hemant himself had served as chief minister earlier in 2013-14.
Along with Soren, Congress Legislature Party Leader Alamgir Alam, who won the Pakur seat, state Congress president Rameshwar Oraon, who won from Lohardaga, and the lone RJD MLA Satyanand Bhokta, took oath as cabinet ministers. Their portfolios are yet to be announced.
JMM leader Stephen Marandi will be Speaker of the new Assembly.
On the stage with Soren were Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and the chief ministers of Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, Ashok Gehlot and Bhupesh Baghel respectively; Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee; DMK president M K Stalin and his sister and party MP Kanimozhi; the CPM’s Sitaram Yechury; and the RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav.
The CPI’s D Raja and Sanjay Singh of the Aam Aadmi Party were also present, constituting a broad anti-BJP spectrum, and underscoring the desire in a section of the Opposition to appear united as they oppose the new citizenship law and the proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC).
None of these leaders had attended the swearing-in of Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray as chief minister earlier this month, even though the Congress and NCP are part of his government in Maharashtra.
Equally significantly though, several opposition leaders were missing from Sunday’s show — a departure from the swearing-in ceremony of H D Kumaraswamy in Bengaluru in 2018, where the leaders of all non-BJP parties were present.
The absences sent out several political signals, including on faultlines in the anti-BJP camp. A notable absentee was BSP chief Mayawati, who has been distancing herself from the rest of the Opposition for some time now. The BSP was not a part of the Opposition delegation that met President Ram Nath Kovind on the citizenship law recently — even though leaders of her party called on Kovind separately a day later.
Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party was missing too. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal stayed away, even though Sanjay Singh was present. The AAP is locked in a battle with both the Congress and BJP in Delhi, where Assembly elections are due in a month.
The absence of representatives from Naveen Patnaik’s BJD, K Chandrasekhar Rao’s TRS, and Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRCP signal that all these parties prefer to maintain an arm’s length from the other Opposition parties. The TDP too, gave the ceremony a miss. This, even though all these parties have opposed a pan-India NRC, along with the other Opposition parties.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Soren on being sworn in as chief minister, and promised the Centre’s support to the state.
“Congratulations to @HemantSorenJMM Ji on taking oath as Jharkhand CM. I assure all possible support from the Centre for Jharkhand’s growth,” Modi posted on Twitter.
Besides deciding to drop the Pathalgadi and tenancy Act protest cases, the Soren Cabinet in its first meeting also directed that posts be created for judicial officers in fast-track courts dealing with cases pertaining to women and children in every district, and that all dues of Anganwadi workers and para-teachers be paid.
The Pathalgadi movement began in 2017-18 when giant stone plaques came up outside villages, declaring the gram sabha as the only sovereign authority. The plaques had inscriptions from the Panchayat (Extension to the Scheduled areas) Act or PESA, which the tribals quoted to claim their independence from the state, and to assert their rights and culture.
While the movement petered out, many villagers alleged that they were subjected to “police brutality” and “state repression”. A total 19 cases of sedition, among other charges, were registered against 172 people. Police sought prosecution sanction against 96 accused.