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A by-poll may change course of Jharkhand politics

May 08, 2009 03:49 IST
In the midst of the din of the Lok Sabha elections, a mere by-election -- for the Jamtara assembly seat in Jharkhand -- has not attracted much attention. But it could change the terms of the state's politics.

Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief Shibu Soren contested this seat along with the Dumka parliamentary seat of which it is a segment. The seat fell vacant when a rebel Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Legislative Assembly, Bishnu Bhaiya, who was facing action from the party, resigned.

The Congress agreed to Soren's candidature for the Jamtara assembly seat and did not field any of its candidates so that Soren could be brought back as the state's chief minister once again. Earlier, Soren was forced to resign following his defeat in Tamar by-election. He insisted on a JMM-led alternative government in the state but the chief ministerial candidate nominated by him was not acceptable to the government partner, the Congress. Thus, Soren was forced to contest from Jamtara.

Though President's rule was imposed on the state on January 19, the state assembly was not dissolved but kept in suspended animation. This was despite the opposition National Democratic Alliance insisting that the state assembly be dissolved and election to it be held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha polls.

But the situation has changed drastically since then. It is now doubted that Soren will return as the state's chief minister even if he wins the Jamtara assembly seat. He is seriously ill and had undergone treatment in Delhi. The JMM chief has now been shifted to Chennai. He failed to campaign this time, putting both the JMM and Congress in some difficulty in the region.

The ruling United Progressive Alliance is a divided house now. Union ministers Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan had forged an electorate alliance in Bihar and distributed seats between their parties, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Lok Janshakti Party, respectively, without taking the Congress into confidence.

As a retaliatory measure, the Congress and JMM inked a seat-deal in Jharkhand, without taking the RJD and LJP into confidence. Prasad and Paswan followed suit by declaring their own seat-deal. As a result, UPA constituents fought against one another in many seats in the state.

On the top of it, Soren's son, Durga, filed nomination for the Godda Lok Sabha seat, which was allotted to the Congress. This embarrassed senior JMM leaders so much so that some of them declared they would campaign for the Congress candidate, Furkan Ansari, in Godda. But the damage has already been done. The Congress may not treat JMM the same way it did before.

Under such circumstances, even if Soren wins the Jamtara assembly seat, it is doubtful whether Yadav and Paswan will support his claim to form an UPA government in the state. The Congress has 9 MLAs and Yadav's RJD has 7 MLAs in the 81-member state assembly, compared to JMM's 17. So their support is crucial for forming the next government.

Besides, a number of MLAs contested elections this time to become MPs. Even if some of them win, they will prefer to retain their parliament seats as the state Assembly is unlikely to last even a full year.

When they resign to become MPs, the arithmetic of political combinations in the state Assembly will change so much that it may not be possible for the UPA to form an alternative government very easily. In that case, the situation may demand a fresh poll for the state that is due early next year.

Tapan Chakravorti in Ranchi