Amid Friction Between Congress and JMM, Uncertainty Looms Large in Jharkhand
After the arrest of 3 Congress MLAs, the party has accused BJP of attempting 'operation lotus' in Jharkhand.
The Congress party is once again finding itself cornered and potentially facing destabilisation of yet another of its governments—this time in Jharkhand. High drama ensued over the weekend, with three of its Jharkhand MLAs nabbed by the West Bengal Police with mountains of cash, following which the Congress party suspended the said MLAs and accused the BJP of attempting ‘operation lotus’ in the state.
While the Congress officially maintains that its government is safe, trouble has been brewing in the state for a while now with fault lines emerging between the party and its alliance partner, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM). The threat of Jharkhand being the ‘next target’ only amplified after the fall of the Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra; the Congress high command too has been on alert since then.
The Build Up
The three MLAs arrested in Bengal with hordes of cash—Irfan Ansari, Rajesh Kachchap and Naman Bixal Kongari—were among the nine MLAs who were found to have cross-voted for NDA candidate Draupadi Murmu in the presidential polls, Congress sources told The Quint.
Just a week after this embarrassing episode, for the same set of MLAs to be found allegedly plotting the fall of the government raises many eyebrows. Moreover, a sitting Jharkhand Congress MLA Kumar Jaimangal Singh has even filed a police complaint in the Argora Police Station alleging that the three arrested MLAs had approached him “promising 10 crores per MLA”. Singh also alleged that Ansari had told him that he has already been promised the health ministry in the “new government” and has also assured Singh of a ministerial berth.
The Congress on its part was quick to act after the arrest, and on Sunday morning, in a press conference held by AICC Jharkhand in-charge Avinash Pande and party spokesperson Pawan Khera, announced that the three MLAs have been suspended with immediate effect.
Notably, Pande had been in Ranchi between Thursday and Saturday, meeting various Congress MLAs and trying to assuage their many concerns, The Quint has learnt. Despite this, the turmoil couldn’t be contained in time.
Continued Friction Between Congress and JMM
In the last two months alone, there have been multiple moments of friction between the Congress and the JMM. Most recently, the JMM decided to support NDA’s presidential candidate Droupadi Murmu, instead of the Congress candidate Yashwant Sinha.
This was seen as the party trying to appeal to and respect Adivasi sentiments of the state, given that Murmu is the first tribal woman to be nominated for this post. But it did rub the Congress party the wrong way.
“In 2012, JMM supported UPA presidential nominee Pranab Mukherjee, and not NDA’s candidate PA Sangma even though he (Sangma) is a tribal leader. So clearly this isn’t as straightforward and noble as they are making it seem,” a Congress leader said.
When the JMM took this call back in 2012, they were in fact in an alliance with the BJP. Soon after the presidential polls, the party then broke off its alliance with the BJP and joined hands with the Congress. That this time the JMM has supported an NDA presidential nominee, could be a worrying sign of what may play out now.
Moreover, in late May this year, the JMM went ahead and announced a candidate from its own party for the Rajya Sabha seat from Jharkhand, when the Congress had been under the impression that it will be their party’s turn.
JMM leader and CM Hemant Soren is under the scanner himself, with two cases against him in which he is accused of granting himself a mining lease whilst he held the mining ministry. In the other case, he is accused of having links with shell companies and money laundering. While the Enforcement Directorate (ED) is investigating these matters, the lawyer who had filed the PILs against Soren, Rajiv Kumar, was arrested on Sunday by the Kolkata police for allegedly duping people of money worth Rs 50 lakh.
The Congress has, however, not come out against its alliance partner on any of these issues, and has mostly tried to resolve matters internally. This is also because the party cannot afford to be too confrontational due to the number game. In the 81-member Jharkhand assembly, the JMM has 30 MLAs, the Congress has 18 MLAs while the BJP has 26.
Congress' Internal Woes
There have been several reservations that the Congress’ own MLAs have expressed with its own leadership as well as vis-à-vis its alliance with the JMM. One, the government came to power in December 2019, and was soon overwhelmed with the Covid virus and accompanying infrastructural challenges failing to begin work on may promises made during the elections.
Then, in January this year, RPN Singh, who was then the AICC in charge for Jharkhand jumped ship and joined the BJP.
“We haven’t been able to implement the common minimum programme of the alliance, we haven’t been able to start any new schemes or fulfil our commitments, all this has undoubtedly kept us worried about re-election as well,” a Jharkhand Congress leader said on condition of anonymity.
“Then, when your state’s AICC in-charge itself leaves the party and joins BJP, it worsens the morale of the cadre,” the leader added.
There is also some resentment against Congress Legislative Party (CLP) leader Alamgir Alam, who also holds the post of the Rural Development minister. “This is in direct contradiction with the one leader-one post rule that the Congress is supposed to adhere to. Ultimately, this effects the smooth functioning of the party as well as the government,” another leader said.
Himanta Biswa Sarma's Alleged Role
Amid all this, one BJP leader’s name is repeatedly cropping up—Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma.
Jaimangal Singh, the Congress MLA said that the three MLAs arrested by the police had called him to Kolkata to take to Guwahati to “make me meet Shri Himanta Biswa Sarma who will give me assurance of a definite ministerial berth apart from money.” The MLA further wrote that he has been assured that “Sarma is doing it with the blessings of top shots of BJP political party sitting in Delhi.”
Even Avinash Pande in his press conference had hinted about Sarma’s role, without actually taking his name.
“Efforts are being made to contact the MLAs…by people who are occupying high posts… the chief minister of a state has been directly contacting the MLAs…,” Pande had said.
Sarma laughed off the allegations, but did say that he is “old friends” with many in the Congress.
"Congress leaders keep in touch with me as old friends. I had been in that party for over 20 years. They meet me if they come here and I also meet them when in New Delhi,” Sarma said to the media.
Sarma was also accused of planning the coup against Maharashtra’s Shiv Sena government in June. The rebel Shiv Sena MLAs had even been moved to a hotel in Guwahati.
Sarma is known to have continued connections with his former party, a skill that has come to the BJP’s advantage as well.
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