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What is Jharkhand CM Soren’s strategy to ride out the storm and why it may not be enough

Hemant Soren government in Jharkhand got a shot in the arm Monday after it won a confidence vote with the support of 48 MLAs in the 81-member House.

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New Delhi: With 48 votes in its favour, the Hemant Soren government won a trust vote in the 81-member Jharkhand legislative assembly Monday. Displaying the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-led alliance’s ability to band together, 29 MLAs of the JMM, excluding the Speaker, 15 of the Congress — barring 3 MLAs who are in West Bengal — and four others, including the sole Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MLA, voted in favour of the ruling coalition.

The idea behind the trust vote was to safeguard the government against any probable defection by MLAs of the ruling coalition over the next six months, JMM strategists told ThePrint.

As per Rule 141(6) of the Jharkhand Vidhan Sabha, if a motion (in this case, the confidence motion) has been moved in a session, a similar motion cannot be moved again in the same session. Additionally, Article 174 of the Constitution specifies that the gap between two sittings of the state legislatures should not be more than six months.

According to Vidhan Sabha rules, a new session cannot be summoned until the previous session is not prorogued (discontinued without dissolution). Moreover, a new session can be convened only once the council of ministers sends a recommendation in this regard to the governor.

Sources in the JMM pointed out that following the floor test Monday, Speaker Rabindra Nath Mahato adjourned the House sine die.

A senior official of the Jharkhand assembly, who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint that the ninth session of the fifth Vidhan Sabha has not been terminated.

“Rule is that once the session is adjourned, the parliamentary affairs minister sends the file to the cabinet, which approves and refers it to the governor. Governor then prorogues the session. But the government can choose not to refer the matter to the governor till up to six months,” the official said.

Alamgir Alam, leader of the Congress legislative party and rural development minister in the Soren government, said another confidence motion cannot be moved against the JMM-led alliance over the next six months till the present session is not prorogued.

“This will ensure that the government will be able to run smoothly for the next six months, despite the BJP trying to create instability,” Alam told ThePrint over the phone.

However, there is a catch — according to constitutional experts, the six-month safeguard that JMM leaders are banking on, might not be enough. 

According to P.D.T Achary, former secretary general of the Lok Sabha, if a sufficient number of coalition MLAs leave the alliance before six months and the governor is convinced that the government has been reduced to a minority, the governor can direct the chief minister to convene an assembly session and prove his majority. 

“The governor has to satisfy himself that the government of the day has lost its majority. Once he is convinced, he can ask the CM to prove his majority on the floor of the House, even if it happens much before six months,” Achary said.  

Also Read: Hemant Soren’s political fate may be uncertain, his image as a shrewd politician isn’t

Numbers in Jharkhand assembly

The Jharkhand assembly has 81 elected and one nominated member, taking the total strength of the House to 82 — the majority mark being 42. Unlike elections for the President or Rajya Sabha, the nominated member can vote on motions tabled in the assembly.

In the trust vote Monday, 29 MLAs of the JMM, 15 of the Congress and one each of the RJD, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) voted in favour of the Soren government, apart from the nominated member, Glen Joseph Galstaun.

The confidence motion was tabled in the backdrop of political uncertainty prevailing in the state since 25 August, after the Election Commission of India (ECI) sent its opinion to Jharkhand Governor Ramesh Bais on Soren’s disqualification in an ‘office of profit’ case. 

With the governor yet to make his decision public, the Jharkhand government has been in a state of limbo for over a week now.

Asked about the delay, sources in the Raj Bhavan told ThePrint that the governor is seeking legal opinion before conveying his decision to the public.

Meanwhile, the JMM-led coalition is blaming the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for trying to destabilise a democratically-elected government, and making attempts to ‘poach’ MLAs of the ruling alliance. 

Fearing that the BJP might attempt an ‘Operation Lotus’ in Jharkhand, Soren moved his ministers and over three dozen MLAs of the ruling alliance to Raipur in Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh on 30 August.

All of the MLAs returned to Ranchi to take part in the trust vote Monday.

‘Floor test helped JMM build narrative’ 

Though there was no immediate danger to the Soren government, which already has a majority in the House, the confidence motion has helped build a narrative in the JMM’s favour, said senior leaders of the ruling alliance.

Alam said that even if the governor decides to disqualify Soren as an MLA, it will not have a bearing on the survival of the government. “Even if he [Soren] is disqualified as an MLA, he can continue as the chief minister for six months. However, he will have to win a by-election within six months to continue as CM,” Alam told ThePrint.

A senior JMM leader, who did not wish to be named, said Monday’s floor test has helped the JMM-led government build a narrative. “Our message to the public is clear. Despite the BJP trying to create trouble, the House has reposed its trust again in a democratically-elected government,” he added.

A second JMM leader said that the government will remain intact even in the eventuality of the governor debarring Soren from contesting elections for a specified period of time. “We have a plan-B in place. We are ready for every eventuality,” he said.

Speaking on the floor of the House, an aggressive Soren accused the BJP of creating an ‘atmosphere of civil war’ and ‘fanning riots’ to win elections. “They [BJP] want to create an atmosphere of civil war and want to trigger riots to win elections. As long as we are here, these plots will not hold. We will give a befitting political reply,” the chief minister said.

Soren also accused Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma of trying to poach the three Congress MLAs, who were arrested by the Kolkata Police on 30 July with Rs 50 lakh in cash. “Onus of poaching [Congress MLAs] in Bengal lies on Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma,” Soren said.

The ‘office of profit’ case against CM Hemant Soren involves a petition filed before Governor Ramesh Bais on 11 February by leaders of the BJP, seeking Soren’s disqualification as an MLA of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) on the grounds that he allegedly allotted a mining lease to himself in 2021 when he was also heading the state mining department. 

While Soren has surrendered the mining lease in question, Governor Bais referred the matter to the EC and sought its opinion on the matter earlier this year. The Commission, in a notice to Soren asking him to respond to charges against him, had said that it found his actions to be in prima facie violation of Section 9A of the Representation of People’s Act.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

Also Read: Ministers stuck in Ranchi, files piling up, how Jharkhand political drama is hurting governance


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