The sign that a political crisis in a state is reaching a critical stage is when parties start moving their legislators to resorts. Earlier this week, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and the Indian National Congress flew their MLAs to Raipur. The two parties constitute the governing alliance in Jharkhand. They are apprehensive that the opposition Bhartiya Janata Party will poach their legislators and destabilise their government.
Jharkhand has had a tumultuous political history. It has had 11 chief ministers in its 22 years. Of these, Raghubar Das of the BJP is the only CM who has completed an entire five-year tenure from 2014 to 2019. Sitting CM Hemant Soren is the second longest CM in the state's history. And the suspense surrounding his continuance in office is part of the latest political crisis in the state. This uncertainty about Soren started when Babu Lal Marandi, the state's first CM and current legislative assembly member, filed a complaint with governor Ramesh Bais.
Marandi asserted that Soren was holding a government mining lease as a legislator and therefore, the governor should disqualify him from the legislative assembly. As per the Constitution, the overnor referred the matter to Election Commission. Before responding, the commission heard Soren and then sent its report to the governor. Soren's continuance as an MLA depends on the commission's report, which the governor has not acted upon so far.
In 2000, during the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's tenure, Parliament created Jharkhand through the Bihar Reorganisation Act. The law specified that elections held in Bihar earlier that year would be the basis of constituting the first legislative assembly of Jharkhand. Based on these elections, the BJP, along with allies, formed the first government in the state. Heading the government as the CM was BJP leader Babu Lal Marandi.
Marandi was sworn in as CM roughly two months before turning forty-two. He had been a primary school teacher, a profession he left to join politics. Before becoming CM, Marandi had been a minister of state for environment and forests in the second and third Vajpayee governments. He resigned from Lok Sabha and won an assembly by-poll to fulfil the constitutional requirement for retaining the post of CM. His tenure as CM lasted two and a half years and was cut short by a rebellion in the ruling coalition. His replacement was a BJP ministerial colleague in his cabinet, Arjun Munda, who became the second CM of Jharkhand. Munda continued as CM till the end of the tenure of the first legislative assembly in 2005. For Munda, this was the first of three stints as Jharkhand CM.
In 2005, elections were held in the state for the first time. The people of Jharkhand did not give any single political party the mandate to form a government. Shibu Soren, the leader of JMM, staked the claim to form the government but could not muster the required numbers. So after being sworn in as CM, he had to resign in 10 days. It led to Arjun Munda heading a BJP-led coalition government, becoming the CM for the second time.
However, Munda could only keep the coalition together for about a year and a half. Defection from the coalition ranks led to his resignation on the legislature's floor in 2006. Then another coalition government supported by JMM took over the governance of the state. And perhaps for the first time in the country, the government was led by an independent MLA, Madhu Koda.
Koda was 35 years old when he became CM. He had entered the state legislature on a BJP ticket in 2000 and was a minister in the Marandi and the first Arjun Munda government. He fought the 2005 state election as an independent and supported the second Munda government, where he was the minister for mining, geology and the co-operative department. With the fall of the second Munda government in 2006, Koda emerged as the consensus candidate to become CM, supported by JMM and others. His government lasted two years, till JMM withdrew support and its leader Shibu Soren became CM for the second time in 2008.
Soren started his legislative career as a member of the Lok Sabha in 1980. In 2008, when he became CM for the second time, he was in his sixth term as a Lok Sabha MP, but not a member of the Jharkhand legislative assembly. To continue as CM beyond six months, Soren had to become a member of the state legislature. But he could not do so, as he lost a by-election in January, 2009. As a result, Soren had to resign from the CM's position and the political uncertainty led to the imposition of the president's rule in the state.
President's rule continued in the state till December of 2009, when Jharkhand went to the polls for the second time. Once again, the electorate returned a fractured mandate, and it took a few months for a coalition of JMM and BJP to form the government, led by Shibu Soren as CM. The third term of Shri Soren lasted a little over five months before the BJP withdrew its support to the government. After a brief stint of President's rule, it was the turn of Arjun Munda of the BJP for his third time as CM.
But disagreements between the coalition partners meant that Munda's third term lasted roughly two years and four months before he had to resign as CM. It led to the third imposition of the President's rule in the thirteen years of Jahrakhand's formation. The quiet time of central rule allowed for political realignments as JMM formed a coalition with INC. As a result, Shibu Soren's son Hemant Soren became the CM after the removal of the President's rule. He continued as CM for another year and a half.
So a brief recap, between 2000 to 2014, Jharkhand had nine governments. Five individuals led these governments that lasted for an average of 15 months. Political instability led to the imposition of the President's rule in the state on three different occasions for roughly two years and three months. All of this changed in the state elections in November of 2014. Earlier that year, the BJP had swept the general elections and won 12 of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in the state. Its winning streak continued in the legislative assembly elections, where it won 37 seats in the 81-member legislature and formed the government with an ally.
Raghubar Das, a five-term state legislator, headed the BJP government. His government completed the full five-year term for the first time in the state's history. The state elections in 2019 brought about another turn in the fortunes of political parties. Shri Raghubar Das lost the election, and the BJP won 25 seats in his leadership. Hemant Soren-led JMM won 30 seats and formed the government with the support of the INC and others. It is the fortune of this government that hangs in the balance.
The political rollercoaster of Jharkhand invariably throws up interesting questions about political morality and the working of the constitution. This time would be no different as political parties will soon start knocking on the doors of the judiciary for redress.
The writer is the head of outreach, PRS Legislative Research