How did the Congress come round to supporting a Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM)-led government in Jharkhand?
After bringing down the BJP-led coalition government over the power-sharing issue in January this year, the JMM had knocked on the doors of the Congress for a tie-up but it appeared reluctant to oblige its former ally.
Probably, caution stemmed from the fact that the Congress had suffered in the past by supporting the Madhu Koda-led government (Koda was an independent, however) and had to bear the public ire for the irregularities committed by that regime and the taint of corruption associated with some JMM leaders.
Apparently, the Congress then was much interested in dislodging the BJP from power and had even nudged the JMM to pull the plug on the Arjun Munda government as a pre-condition for its support.
All that was six months ago. The Congress has now agreed to join hands with the tribal party not only in Jharkhand but their alliance will extend to Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar and Chhattisgarh. All these states have significant tribal populations.
Since the Congress from the beginning was looking for larger gains in terms of a pre-poll alliance for the next Lok Sabha elections, it agreed to let the JMM lead the coalition government, which will be backed by the RJD and some independents.
In accordance with the deal, the JMM got the chief minister’s post while the Congress grabbed a major share of seats — 10 of the 14 in the state — to contest in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The JMM will fight in the remaining four.
“From the beginning, we were more interested in long-term ties and not just restrict the partnership to forming a coalition government in Jharkhand… It’s a win-win deal for both the parties,” a senior Congress leader said.
The change in the Congress thinking is part of its electoral strategy to regain a foothold in the states where the party has been relegated to the margin over the years.
In the past, a pre-poll alliance had paid the two parties rich electoral dividends. In the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the two fought together and the Congress won six seats and the JMM four. But their fortunes reversed in 2009, when they fought separately, and the Congress could win just one seat while the JMM got only two.
That the deal came through after much dilly-dallying and days of hectic deliberations indicated that it wasn’t a smooth affair. Though Congress president Sonia Gandhi gave her stamp of approval to the agreement, she did not meet JMM chief Shibu Soren’s son and chief negotiator Hemant Soren for customary pre-alliance discussions.
“Let him (Hemant Soren) stake claim first,” replied Congress general secretary BK Hariprasad when asked why Gandhi didn’t meet Hemant Soren.
The nod from Rahul Gandhi came after defence minister AK Antony, who heads a Congress panel tasked with the responsibility to find allies for the next general elections, ended up securing a good deal for his party.
And this time, the Congress is playing it very safe. Before sitting down to prepare a common agenda of governance, it has asked the new government to ensure that tribals and weaker sections are not adversely impacted by mining activities. The caution comes in the backdrop of the recent mining scandals.