Despite their bitter fallout in 2014, the Indian National Congress and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha recently announced to join hands in the upcoming polls. JMM executive president Hemant Soren reportedly met Rahul Gandhi at the latter’s residence this week during which a decision was taken to form a united Opposition in Jharkhand.
As part of the deal, while JMM will support Congress’ candidate during the Rajya Sabha polls on 23 March, Gandhi’s Congress will lend a hand to Soren’s JMM in the 2019 Lok Sabha and Jharkhand Legislative Assembly polls, reports said.
Congress’ Jharkhand in-charge RPN Singh and state Congress chief Ajoy Kumar were also present at the meeting.
Speaking to News18, JMM spokesman Vinod Pandey said that JMM has agreed to support Congress’ candidate in the upcoming Rajya Sabha polls. “Numerically, the other seat will come to us but we are indeed worried as dirty tricks can be applied. Ethically, BJP should not field or back a second candidate. But like Congress, they too want to increase tally in the Upper House,” he was quoted as saying.
Two seats from Jharkhand will go to polls later this month as the terms of sitting MPs Pradeep Balmuchu (Congress) and Sanjiv Kumar (JMM) are slated to expire on 3 May.
Congress currently has seven MLAs in the Jharkhand Legislative Assembly whereas JMM has 19 MLAs.To get elected to the Rajya Sabha, a contestant would require at least 27 first preference votes.
According to News18’s Alok Kumar, both Congress and JMM have claimed support of two MLAs from BSP and CPI(ML), while two MLAs from Babulal Marandi’s Jharkhand Vikas Morcha might extend support as well. This takes the overall tally of votes for Congress’s candidate to 30. Congress, therefore, should have no problem gettings its candidate elected to the Upper House.
Jharkhand Rajya Sabha polls have a history of corruption
However, despite the support, the election may not be a smooth affair for Congress, especially since the Rajya Sabha elections in Jharkhand have always been marred by controversies and allegations of horse trading.
In the 2016 Rajya Sabha bypoll, JMM candidate lost despite support from Congress. Incidentally, two members from the Opposition camp voted in favour of the BJP candidate while one MLA from each Congress and JMM candidate didn’t vote at all. JMM had then alleged Chief Minister Raghubar Das of horse-trading.
In 2014, JMM leader Sita Soren (daughter-in-law of Shibu Soren) was arrested in 2014 for horse-trading during the 2012 Rajya Sabha elections.
Alliance may be good for JMM-Congress prospects
But that’s not the only obstacle facing the Congress-JMM alliance in Jharkhand. In 2014, Congress and JMM had gone separate ways before the state Assembly Election after they failed to come to an understanding on seat arrangements. The fall has left a void of trust between the two parties.
No doubt party patriarch, Shibu Soren advised caution to JMM leaders. The JMM patriarch had reportedly warned Hemant to get everything agreed as part of the alliance deal in writing.
JMM leader Abhishek Singh, however, played down the JMM patriarch’s warning. Speaking to Indian Express, Singh, said, “He did not say that the alliance should not happen. But, when the mediaperson asked him, he expressed his doubts based on his past experience. And he was of the view that the agreement should be in writing. There is no need to blow his views out-of-proportion.”
Besides, another major problem facing the now-back-again alliance partners is overcoming the BJP/Modi-wave in Jharkhand, which saw the party not just performing well not just in Lok Sabha but the Assembly polls as well. During the 2014 Assembly polls, though JMM managed to gain one seat (winning total 19 seats), Congress performed poorly, winning just six seats (and losing eight seats it had won in the 2009 Assembly polls).
Share wise, JMM had emerged as the second largest party accounting for 20.43 percent (12 percent in 2009) of all votes polled whereas Congress had polled just 10.46 percent votes (falling below the 13 percent votes polled in 2009). Though even when combined together, their vote share falls behind BJP’s 31.26 percent, the alliance may have a chance in the upcoming polls, especially since JMM has constantly been gaining ground in the state, and recently retained the Litipara seat during the 2017 bypolls in the state.
As for Congress, despite the 2014 poor show, the party had managed to beat BJP ally AJSU in Lohardagga bypolls in 2015 and retained its Panki seat in 2016. But Congress must keep its house in order. Internal rifts in Congress’ Jharkhand unit were one of the reasons behind the party’s poor performance in the state.