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Jharkhand governor keeps JMM guessing as EC’s opinion casts shadow on Soren’s future

Governor had sought poll body's opinion on 'office of profit' case against Soren. The EC’s report, sent to the governor in a sealed envelope, is yet to be communicated to the govt.

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Ranchi: The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM)-led ruling alliance is in favour of Hemant Soren continuing as chief minister in the eventuality of his disqualification as MLA, senior JMM and Congress leaders told ThePrint Friday.

Jharkhand has been in a state of political turmoil since the Election Commission (EC) Thursday sent its opinion to Governor Ramesh Bais on an ‘office of profit’ case that could lead to Soren’s disqualification as an MLA. The EC’s report, sent to the governor in a sealed envelope, is yet to be communicated to the government.

On 11 February, BJP leaders including former CM Raghubar Das filed a petition before the governor seeking Soren’s disqualification as MLA on grounds that he allegedly allotted a mining lease to himself last year while he was also heading the mining department.

Governor Bais had referred the matter to the EC, which then sent a notice to Soren, asking him to respond by 10 May to the charge that he allotted a mining lease to himself for a stone chips quarry on government land while holding the office of chief minister.

In its notice, the commission had said that Soren’s actions are a prima facie violation of Section 9A of The Representation of the People (RP) Act, 1951, which deals with disqualification for government contracts. Soren has since surrendered the mining lease.

Letting Soren continue was among the matters discussed at a meeting of alliance partners called by the CM at his residence in Ranchi Friday.

However, if it turns out that the EC in its report has advised Governor Bais to debar Hemant Soren from contesting elections, the latter — along with his father and JMM supremo Shibu Soren — will decide on who should replace him, sources in JMM and its alliance partner, the Congress, told ThePrint.

The sources further said that the names of Soren’s wife Kalpana, as well as JMM MLAs Joba Majhi and Champai Soren — who hold the women and child development and transport portfolios, respectively, in the Jharkhand government — are in the reckoning. Both Majhi and Champai Soren are considered close to CM Soren, the sources added.

Also Read: JMM, BJP prepare for Soren’s disqualification as EC finds ‘ample evidence’ in mining lease case

‘Allies firmly behind Soren’

All MLAs of JMM, Congress and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) are firmly behind Hemant Soren, senior Congress leader and state Parliamentary Affairs Minister Alamgir Alam told ThePrint. 

“There was unanimity in the meeting that we want him to continue as the leader of the coalition and CM. If governor disqualifies Hemant Soren as an MLA, he will resign from his membership but can continue as CM for six months. He will contest election within six months and become an MLA again. There is no doubt on that,” Alam said. 

Alam also slammed the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for claiming that the EC has recommended Soren’s disqualification even though the governor is yet to convey the commission’s opinion to the government.

Reiterating that alliance partners have reposed their faith in CM Soren, JMM general secretary Supriyo Bhattacharya said the JMM-led alliance is a democratically elected government and the mandate given to the coalition by the people of Jharkhand is what will matter the most.

Asked whether alliance partners discussed who might replace Soren if push comes to shove, Bhattacharya said such notions are “too speculative” at the moment. “Neither the ECI or the governor has communicated anything to us. We are also waiting for the governor’s decision.”

Rumours run wild in Ranchi

With Governor Bais yet to communicate the EC’s opinion, wild rumours have been doing the rounds in the corridors of power in Ranchi. 

One such rumour was that all 50 JMM, Congress and RJD MLAs are being sent to non-BJP-ruled states like Chhattisgarh or West Bengal to safeguard them from being “poached”.

Rubbishing this rumour, Jharkhand minister Alamgir Alam said it was decided in the meeting at CM Soren’s residence that all MLAs will stay in Ranchi and face the challenge together in case Soren is disqualified.

The opposition BJP, meanwhile, is up in arms against the Soren government. Former CM and senior BJP leader Raghubar Das told ThePrint that Soren indulged in gross irregularity by giving himself a mining lease while holding the mining portfolio.

“It’s a gross violation of Representation of People’s Act,” he said, adding that the BJP has adopted a wait and watch strategy till the governor takes a call. “We will decide our strategy after that.”

Despite an air of uncertainty looming large, Soren went about his schedule as planned following his meeting with alliance partners and MLAs. After his meeting he met a delegation of the Jharkhand Police Association at his official residence and then left for Latehar to inaugurate different projects, ThePrint has learnt.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

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