New Delhi: The detention of three Congress MLAs from Kolkata’s Howrah after police recovered cash from their car Saturday evening has sent jitters in the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM)-led coalition government in Jharkhand.
The developments come at a time when the Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren is in a tough spot himself in the light of allegations of corruption levelled against him over the allotment of a mining lease and allocation of land in an industrial area in Ranchi.
The three Jharkhand Congress MLAs are now being questioned by the Howrah Police after their vehicle was found loaded with cash.
Howrah (Rural) Superintendent of Police Swati Bhangalia told ThePrint the force intercepted the car in Uluberia near Kolkata Saturday evening after receiving specific inputs.
“The cash amount was so high that we have called for currency counting machines to ascertain the total amount. The three Congress MLAs are currently being questioned,” Bhangalia said.
However, senior Congress leader and Jharkhand rural development minister Rameshwar Oraon told ThePrint that though “unusual”, it is too early in the day to reach any conclusion.
“The incident needs to be investigated thoroughly. But I can say that as of now there is no threat to the coalition government in the state,” Oraon told ThePrint.
But JMM leaders were not so positive about the developments.
JMM general secretary Supriyo Bhattacharya told ThePrint, “We have been saying since the last two years that an attempt is being made by the BJP to destabilise the government. The Howrah incident could be one of the instances. We will discuss internally what happened in Howrah today and give our official statement Monday.”
Hours later, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh blamed the incident on the Bharatiya Janata Party.
“The BJP’s ‘Operation Lotus’ in Jharkhand stands exposed tonight in Howrah. The game plan of ‘Hum Do’ in Delhi is to do in Jharkhand what they did in Maharashtra by installing E-D duo,” Ramesh said in a tweet.
How things stand
The JMM-Congress-RJD coalition government has been on a sticky wicket for quite some time. There were already fissures in the alliance, with Soren rejecting his ally’s demand for a Rajya Sabha seat in May. The JMM fielded its own candidate, Mahua Maji, instead.
But the faultlines came out in the open during the recently-concluded presidential elections. As many as seven Congress MLAs are believed to have voted in favour of NDA presidential nominee Droupadi Murmu against their party line.
Though the JMM had announced to support Murmu, a tribal, Congress had decided to go with the joint opposition candidate Yashwant Sinha.
While Murmu’s assured votes in Jharkhand totalled 56, including BJP’s 26 and JMM’s 30, she ended up getting 70 votes, with 14 coming from the opposition camp. The lone NCP MLA declared later that he had voted for Murmu. This means that 13 MLAs from the ruling alliance minus the JMM cross-voted.
The JMM-Congress-RJD combine in Jharkhand had won 47 seats in 2019, which is more than the halfway mark in the Jharkhand Assembly with a combined vote share of 35.35 per cent.
The JMM has 30, the Congress 16, and RJD one seat in the 81-member Jharkhand Assembly. If the BJP, which has 25 MLAs, is able to secure the support of the 14 opposition MLAs who voted for Murmu against their party lines, it could put the Soren government in a minority.
The BJP with these 14 MLAs would then reach the tally of 40, just one short of the majority mark in the Jharkhand assembly.
The JMM-Congress combine in Jharkhand had won 25 of the 28 seats in the tribal belt in 2019, while the BJP managed to stake claim to two seats. The JMM has 30, the Congress 16, and the BJP 25 MLAs in Jharkhand’s 81-member legislature.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)