Many issues dog the Mahagathbandhan of the Congress, Jharkhand Vikas Morcha-Prajatantrik and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, the most prominent of which is seat sharing.
When Sukhdeo Bhagat, a sitting legislator and former president of the Jharkhand Congress Committee, avowed that Umang Sir (referring to Madhya Pradesh minister Umang Singhar) was like a guardian to him, the party heaved a sigh of relief. This is because Singhar has been on the job to pacify Bhagat, who has raised a revolt within the party.
The Madhya Pradesh minister, also the deputy person in-charge of the Congress party’s affairs in Jharkhand, went to Bhagat’s residence in Lohardaga, and held a marathon closed-door meeting. When Singhar came out, he appeared unmoved while Bhagat seemed excited. “Besides family, we have emotional relations,” said Bhagat, hinting that everything was in order regarding party affairs, and that the Congress had no reason to worry.
Bhagat has made no secret of his differences with the party high command after he was unceremoniously removed from the post of party chief. A senior Congress leader said that during the meeting, Bhagat was furious and in no mood to listen to Singhar.
Within a week, Bhagat gave a big jolt to the Congress, by crossing over to the Bharatiya Janata Party along with another party legislator Manoj Yadav.
Jharkhand Mukti Morcha legislators Kunal Sarangi and Jaiprakash Bhai Patel, along with Independent MLA Bhanu Pratap Sahi, also followed them. Besides the sitting lawmakers, senior leaders from both political parties, along with senior bureaucrats and police officials, joined the league.
“The five sitting legislators joining the BJP is secondary, though the development has added to five seats for the party. What is of significance, however, is the blow inflicted on the Congress and JMM,” said a political observer. While both parties had been pursuing the idea of a grand alliance, the BJP succeeded in splitting it by pulling its top leaders and senior legislators into its fold.
The Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance), which is already on a sticky wicket, received a big jolt before it could even take off.
Though an alliance with the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha-Prajatantrik, and the JMM was not rewarding for the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections, the party knows it will not be able to take on the BJP’s might in the assembly polls without support.
However, many issues pertaining to the formation of a grand alliance still await resolution, the most prominent of which is seat sharing.
The Congress had reportedly claimed above 30 seats, including those where the sitting MLAs of the JMM were in a strong position.
“I have met Babulal Marandiji [chief of JVM-P] and initiated talks,” said Jharkhand Congress President Rameshwar Oraon. They have an understanding with the JMM and will hold further talks regarding seats later, he added.
Initial discussions, however, hit a roadblock when Marandi gave a contradictory statement.
“We will contest all 81 seats,” said Marandi, adding that the JVM had a separate identity in the state and would go solo. He also denied any parleys going on for joining the grand alliance.
In the 2014 assembly polls, the JVM-P had secured 10 per cent of the votes, winning eight seats. Six of its legislators, however, later split to support the minority government of the BJP, led by Raghubar Das.
A senior JVM-P leader said Marandi had reservations over projecting a leader of the grand alliance. Hemant Soren, the working president of the JMM and former chief minister, is desperate to lead. The Congress is prepared to project him as the leader of the grand alliance. The party knows any alliance without the JMM, which secured a 20.4 per cent vote share and 19 seats, would fail to take on the BJP.
The JMM has a strong hold on the 26 tribal seats. Another daunting task for the grand alliance would be the transfer of votes among allies. “It is a precedent in Jharkhand politics that vote transfer to a partner does not take place,” a political observer said. Tribal votes of the JMM will not go to the Congress or any other ally, they said, adding that non-tribal votes of the Congress would not go to the JMM.
A pre-poll alliance in Jharkhand to challenge the BJP appears difficult. The only option left is a post-poll alliance that may not be as effective.
The only challenge for the BJP is to keep its own house in order. JMM spokesperson Suprio Bhattacharya said the BJP was banking on leaders from “outside” for electoral gains, by inducting them.
“This will cause resentment among its own cadre and leaders, and the party will have to pay a heavy price,” he added.
Bhagat and former IPS officer-turned-Congressman Arun Oraon were considered a bête noire in the party, with a common base in Lohardaga. Now, both are in the BJP.