How did a Jharkhand govt in churn ‘thwart BJP operation Lotus’? Credit to a ‘Trojan Horse & MLA bonding’

How did a Jharkhand govt in churn ‘thwart BJP operation Lotus’? Credit to a ‘Trojan Horse & MLA bonding’

While BJP denies the allegations, Congress and JMM have accused the party of trying to topple their coalition govt in Jharkhand since it was formed in 2019.

Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren | ANI file photo

Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren | ANI file photo

Ranchi: In August 2022, Jharkhand seemed all set to roll over under the so-called ‘Operation Lotus’ juggernaut — an alleged Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) endeavour to topple governments mid-term. But a “Trojan Horse” legislator is said to have alerted the ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-Congress alliance just in time.

Anup Singh, the Congress MLA from Bermo in Jharkhand’s Bokaro district, is credited with not just saving the Hemant Soren-led government but also prompting the arrests of three Congress MLAs who were apprehended by West Bengal Police in July last year with Rs 49 lakh. The three legislators were accused of trying to topple the JMM-Congress government at the behest of the BJP — an allegation denied by the latter.

Singh told ThePrint that he was never contacted by the BJP but was in touch with the three now-expelled MLAs — Irfan Ansari (Jamtara), Rajesh Kachhap (Khijri), and Naman Bixal Kongar (Kolebira). “The three had told me how they had met Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma in Guwahati and told me of their future plan of going to Bengal to get money from a local businessman. I told the (Jharkhand) CID the same,” he said.

Singh also revealed that he “duly informed” CM Soren and Jharkhand Congress chief Rajesh Thakur about their plans. “Based on this information, they informed the West Bengal government, and the three were caught there, along with cash,” he said.

Confirming what Singh told ThePrint over the phone, a JMM functionary said on condition of anonymity that the Bermo MLA was promised a ministry by the BJP but got cold feet at the last minute. “Singh was in touch with the other party and kept giving us information about their next moves. We used him as a Trojan Horse and kept an eye on all activities,” he said.

Dismissing the claims, six-time MLA C.P. Singh of the BJP told ThePrint, “The BJP teaches nationalism and patriotism. If good-hearted individuals want to join this party, which is a force to reckon with, we can’t help it. Our doors are always open. But we don’t want to bring any government down.”

The Ranchi zonal office of the Enforcement Directorate had in December last year summoned Anup Singh for questioning in connection with a money laundering case.

Besides the “Trojan Horse” play, there are said to be other factors too that helped save the state government — surveillance of MLAs, populist bills aimed at courting the state’s significant tribal population, and infighting in the BJP.

Also Read: Facing protests by Jains, Modi govt stops all tourist activity at Jharkhand shrine site

‘Built camaraderie among MLAs’

In August last year, 32 MLAs of the ruling JMM-Congress alliance boarded a chartered flight from Ranchi to Raipur where they were herded to a luxury resort. Upon their return to the state, CM Soren sought a vote of confidence in the legislative assembly, which concluded with 48 of the state’s 81 MLAs expressing faith in his government.

This huddling of MLAs was in the backdrop of uncertainty that prevailed in the state after the Election Commission in a letter to then Jharkhand governor Ramesh Bais reportedly recommended Soren’s disqualification as an MLA for allotting a stone mining lease to himself in 2021. In February last year, the BJP had submitted a memorandum to the governor seeking Soren’s disqualification from the House under Section 9(A) of the Representation of People’s Act citing the ‘office of profit’ case against him.

JMM spokesperson Supriyo Bhattacharya credited the “victory” in the House to the camaraderie that developed between MLAs of the ruling coalition as a result of bonding exercises held during a picnic of which Soren was a part, and at the resort in Raipur. 

“Most of our MLAs are young, below 50 or 40. The stay at the resort was one where bonding exercises and practical jokes built camaraderie among them,” Bhattacharya said. He added, “Our MLAs are intact. We are people of a movement. We just needed to ensure we impart the same sense of purpose to members of the Congress.”

On the need for surveillance of legislators of the ruling alliance, he said, “The BJP has been trying to topple our government since we came to power in 2019. Two years went by fighting Covid but in January 2022, they strengthened their efforts to take us down. Some MLAs were oscillating from one side to the other but we kept a close eye on everyone. We passed on a hard message to Congress MLAs, that we were tracking them closely.” 

Bhattacharya also said that Soren adopted an approach of acknowledging that while the ambitions of each MLA cannot be fulfilled, the least one can do is hear their demands. “In a tense and pressurised situation, people don’t talk. But they have grievances to voice. The chief minister gave MLAs time personally and heard their needs vis-a-vis their constituency, and approved development projects in their constituencies. So, the MLA goes home happy, his goal having been met,” he said. 

Recalling the alleged attempted coup, Jharkhand Pradesh Congress Committee (JPCC) chief Rajesh Thakur alleged the BJP was approaching MLAs separately and failed to build a consensus. “If one group was willing to bargain with the BJP, the other was giving us information about offers coming their way. So, we increased surveillance on our MLAs and got in touch with them about not indulging in any anti-party activities,” he said.

A state Congress leader, meanwhile, said that, unlike in Madhya Pradesh, where the government fell primarily because Jyotiraditya Scindia walked out along with his “men”, there is no factionalism in Jharkhand Congress.

“We didn’t distribute tickets on the basis of allegiance to top leaders. So, unlike in Maharashtra or Madhya Pradesh where it was easy to mobilise a large chunk of MLAs, that wasn’t possible in Jharkhand,” the leader added.

‘Soren has beaten BJP at its own game’

Its populist policies are also said to have helped the Soren government buck the ‘Operation Lotus’ juggernaut.

Among these were two bills passed last November by the Jharkhand assembly with unanimous support — the “Jharkhand Definition of Local Persons and for Extending the Consequential, Social, Cultural and other Benefits to such Local Persons Bill, 2022” and the “Jharkhand Reservation in Vacancies of Posts and Services (Amendment) Bill, 2022”.

The first Bill established that only those with their names or their ancestors’ names in the khatiyan (land records) of 1932 or before will be considered domiciles and will be entitled to grade-3 and grade-4 government jobs. It coincided with legislation proposing to increase reservations in state government jobs to 77 per cent for socially and economically weaker sections, to 28 per cent for STs, 27 per cent for OBCs and 12 per cent for SCs.

Though the khatiyan Bill was passed unanimously in the assembly, then governor Bais sent them back to the government to “review its legality” in January this year. The bills will become acts only when the Union government consents to include them in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution, essentially shielding them from judicial review. 

Political analyst Sudhir Pal told ThePrint, “These populist bills can’t be passed without the express approval of the central government, which is the brahmastra of the Soren government. They can communicate to their core voter that while the JMM batted for their rights, the BJP isn’t standing with their demands.” 

This, said Pal, fits well with Soren’s narrative that the BJP is trying to topple his government by using central agencies such as the ED.  

Pal added that the JMM-Congress alliance also made an attempt to consolidate the Muslim vote by passing a law against mob-lynching despite opposition from the BJP. “With these populist policies, the Soren government is currently so popular that it doesn’t make sense for the BJP to try and topple it. Soren has beaten them at their own game,” Pal said.

He further added that with only a year-and-a-half to go for assembly elections in Jharkhand, there is little chance that the BJP will make any more attempts to destabilise the Soren government.

As for the BJP, the state’s Jharkhand unit has its own issues to deal with. The lack of a strong leader in the Jharkhand BJP has led to multiple leaders vying for the chief minister’s chair. “There are a lot of internal conflicts in the BJP. Babulal Marandi vs Arjun Munda, Raghubar Das vs Arjun Munda. Nishikant Dubey is also emerging as a strong leader… too many internal conflicts,” Pal added. 

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

Also Read: Jharkhand’s Santhals have just won a protest against an ancient death ritual—the 2.5 m shroud