By nominating Champai Soren to the position of Chief Minister and ensuring a convincing win in the trust vote, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and its allies, the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, did well to weather the storm after the resignation of Hemant Soren over corruption charges. The predominantly tribal populated Jharkhand remains one of just a few States that have not been wrested by the Bharatiya Janata Party ever since the beginning of what political scientists call the era of the BJP-dominated party system in northern India. It is to the JMM’s leadership’s credit that it sought to elevate a leader who played a major role in the State’s formation (after its bifurcation from Bihar) rather than appointing another family member, even if this was a decision taken under duress, and avoiding the impression that it was the Shibu and Hemant Soren-led family that would rule by proxy. This, in a way, bucked the trend in most regional parties, where power tends to concentrate in the families of its most popular leaders, either due to the fact that this allows party finances to be controlled by those closest to the leadership or because such parties are unable to evolve into cadre-based, ideology-driven units.
By catapulting Champai Soren to the helm of governance, the JMM signalled a return to its past when it was more a movement and less a typical party. Yet, two issues should worry the party. His appointment was also made possible because of a family rift over the possible candidature of Kalpana Soren, Hemant Soren’s wife. And, second, the unedifying sight of MLAs being transported to Congress-ruled Telangana suggests that the ruling alliance was not so sure of ideological leanings acting as a glue to keep its flock together — a phenomenon that has become sadly true of many politicians in India. Hemant Soren’s resignation would also have been welcomed in normal circumstances where anyone in government should give up power if they face serious corruption charges as he did in a purported land scam. But the fact that the Union government has used its law enforcement agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate less as weapons against corruption and more as a tool to browbeat any opposition, gives cause for pause. Regardless of this, Mr. Soren’s case must be thoroughly investigated and should not be subject to the vagaries of political outcomes such as the retention of power by the JMM and its allies. In a way, the developments should compel the JMM-led government to reorient its focus on governance in one of India’s most mineral-rich, but materially poor, States, and that will be its best answer to the questions raised about it following the arrest.