Unnoticed by the rest of the world, a bizarre drama was played out in Jharkhand recently -- that is, even more bizarre than the claims made by Jharkhand Chief Minister Shibu Soren's aides that Soren voted for the United Progressive Alliance in the Lok Sabha because he is suffering from Alzheimer's disease, so he forgot that it was the National Democratic Alliance which was supporting his government in Jharkhand.
On Sunday, Paulus Surin, an Member of Legislative Assembly from Soren's Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, who represents the Torpa constituency, first offered to quit his seat and then decided to withdraw the offer from his luxuriously appointed quarters in Simdega prison where he is currently lodged on charges of murder and waging war against the state (he's a former Maoist). Torpa was the constituency Soren was eyeing to become a MLA -- something he must do before June 30, when the six-month period to become an MLA to continue as chief minister ends.
Soren thought of Torpa because both his son Hemant and daughter-in-law Geeta have refused to step down from their seats in the assembly. There is no other vacancy and the party can't get anyone to vacate a seat in Soren's stronghold Santhal Pargana.
The party is anxious to avoid the embarrassment of the January 2009 Tamar by-election when Soren was defeated by a rookie in politics, Gopal Singh Patar alias Raja Peter. The party leadership thought that even though the JMM doesn't have a strong presence in Torpa, they could clinch the seat for Soren. However, the sitting MLA has now thrown a spanner in the party's works. Under the circumstances, it is hard to see how Soren can continue as chief minister.
Not that it makes much difference. Complex games are afoot in Jharkhand, endemically unstable, to form some sort of government. The Congress has an alliance with the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha-Prajatantrik (led by Babulal Marandi) with 25 seats, while the BJP-Janata Dal - United alliance has 20 seats in the 81-member assembly. The JMM holds 18 seats.
Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal has five seats, while other parties have 13. The Congress would not mind at all if President's Rule was imposed in Jharkhand, while Hemant Soren is pleading desperately with the BJP to forgive his father's mistake and let him (Hemant) become chief minister. Now on a moral high, the BJP says it will shore up the government only if the chief minister's post is given to it. Once again, Jharkhand is teetering on the brink of instability.
In the last 10 years, Jharkhand has not had any government which has managed to complete its term. This is because of the fundamental change that the tribal identity is undergoing. Earlier, the great unifying factor was the 'foreigner' (diku), the non-tribal. Jharkhand tribals resisted efforts by the Mughal dynasty and the British to overcome their rich land and luxuriant forests. The tribals were marginalised when Hindu traders and Muslim farmers moved in and modern law and administration were established -- primarily for them. The British authority and its accompanying array of devices hastened the pauperisation of the tribals. The administration was manned by dikus and the introduction of paper currency was alien to the tribals. Their villages went to principally Muslim landlords who wanted access to the forests and the communities that lived there as cheap labour. All this had one inevitable result: armed resistance.
Independent India offered little that was better. Missionaries stayed behind and the tribals continued to resist efforts to subvert their own variant of Hinduism and Gods -- which were modelled on living tribal leaders. This led to the realisation that their lot would not improve until their identity was recognised as unique: for this they needed self-governance and their own province. The JMM was started in 1973 by a young man just out of his teens, Shibu Soren.
Till such time as there was a diku, the tribal identity was carved out in juxtaposition to it. But gradually, younger tribals realised that it was more profitable to side with the diku than to oppose him. One fallout from this process is Madhu Koda and the mining-lease scandal. And there is reason to believe that the same issues -- who should be given mining licences -- are at the bottom of the current political stalemate in Jharkhand as well.
Whether it is Hemant Soren who becomes chief minister with BJP support or anyone else, instability in the mineral-rich state is likely to continue. Nor is President's rule the answer (a past spell of President's rule saw, for the first time in India's history, a case being lodged by the Central Bureau of Investigation against the aides of the governor). India has to come to terms with the fact that greed is the only motive for politics in Jharkhand. The rest follows.