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Hemant Soren’s twin worries: A Congress unhappy playing second fiddle & two defiant MLAs

Congress leaders say the party has become more assertive in Jharkhand since RPN Singh quit to join the BJP.

Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren. (Express Photo)

In Jharkhand, an increasingly assertive Congress is looking to rebuild its organisation to gain more leverage in its relationship with the Hemant Soren-led Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) government. This has created a predicament for the JMM at a time it is facing dissent from within.

Senior Congress leader and state Health Minister Banna Gupta, in February, accused Chief Minister Soren of sidelining the Congress and attempting to “politically finish” it in the state.

The comments, backed by other Congress leaders, were made following certain disagreements with Soren on the common minimum programme that provides the government with a broad framework of governance, sources said.

Congress leaders attributed this shift in the party’s approach in Jharkhand politics to a change in focus since the departure of RPN Singh, who was in charge of the party’s affairs in the state, to the BJP in January.

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A senior leader, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “Since the government formation, RPN Singh did not let any channel between the Congress leaders and Hemant Soren prosper. Since he joined the BJP, and the new in-charge (Avinash Pande) came in, there have been movements in the party. First, a ‘Chintan Shivir’ was held. Based on the inputs, a letter was sent to the CM. It outlined the common minimum programme. All this has led to rumours.”

A JMM leader, however, told The Indian Express that the Congress’s recent manoeuvrings were part of its efforts to get one of the two Rajya Sabha seats from the state that will fall vacant in July.

With one of the seats set to go to the BJP, the other one will be either with the JMM or the Congress. The JMM has 30 MLAs in the 81-member House, the Congress 18 and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) one MLA. The BJP has 25 MLAs.

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Like in other states, the grand old party has been battling internal problems in Jharkhand too. But now its focus is on rebuilding its organisational strength.

According to sources, the party has more than 10,000 members only in one of the state’s 81 constituencies (Poreyahat). The Congress has between 5,000 to 10,000 members in seats such as Dhanbad, Jamshedpur East, Jamshedpur West, Mahagama, and Lohardaga. At present, the party is focusing on digital membership drives, which is the domain of its data analytics chief Praveen Chakravarty.

“Things have begun to change slowly,” said a leader who was part of a state Congress delegation that met the party’s central leadership in New Delhi on Tuesday. The party functionary claimed that the meeting was organised “not due to any fissures in the state politics” but to improve the party’s position in the eastern state. “In the last four to five years, there had not been any meeting at the central level. The meeting in Delhi was to select leaders such as veteran Subodh Kant Sahay and leaders who have yet to make an impact, and allot them districts to do the months-long work of building structures and understanding social cohesion, among other things.”

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Another senior leader said the meeting’s agenda was to work on the “micro and the macro” of the state’s politics. He claimed that the coalition’s functioning was not discussed as there was “no trouble”.

The leader added, “There is a parallel discussion ongoing on the common minimum programme issue and Hemant Soren is taking his own time because things are also not going smoothly in the JMM as well. All we discussed was to get block level and booth-level outreach and identify important people with whom the Congress will initiate discussion and try to understand their perspective.”

Meanwhile, Soren too is facing rebellion from his sister-in-law and Jama MLA Sita Soren and Borio legislator Lobin Hembrem. While Sita submitted a memorandum to Governor Ramesh Bais on April 1 on “illegal coal transportation on forest land in a district”, Hembrem has been vocal the past few months about the state’s domicile policy. He has opposed the government’s stance that land records from 1932 cannot be the only proof of domicile.

Party insiders said Sita had brought the family feud out in the open because she wants to project her two daughters as future MLAs from the Santhal Paragna area. The party functionaries claimed Hembrem’s demand, despite its merit, was also a way of protecting his political capital in his constituency.

“His way is not correct. He could have just sat down with the CM and spoken in detail on the issue,” a senior JMM leader told The Indian Express.

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Another heavyweight leader of the ruling party said, “Everyone knows that if any person can bring domicile policy based on 1932 land records, it is Hemant Soren. The government has made its stand very clear that a land-records survey was conducted in Jharkhand six times, the first being in 1911 and the last being in 2005. So which one should be the cut-off date? The government is studying the issue and it will take some time.”

Asked about Sita Soren’s demand, the leader said the letter was about a “minor issue”. He added, “One cannot stop entire coal transportation due to this. It will be the nation’s loss.”

First published on: 06-04-2022 at 16:28 IST
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