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Rameshwar Oraon takes charge as Jharkhand Congress chief; will he be able to rein in warring camps?

Rameshwar Oraon has served as the minister of state for tribal affairs in the first term of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. He also headed the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) for two terms from 2010 onwards.

india Updated: Aug 27, 2019 13:05 IST
Vishal Kant
Vishal Kant
Hindustan Times, Ranchi
Tribal leader Rameshwar Oraon has been appointed Congress party’s new chief in Jharkhand.
Tribal leader Rameshwar Oraon has been appointed Congress party’s new chief in Jharkhand.(HT Photo)
         

Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Monday appointed former Union minister and tribal leader Rameshwar Oraon the party’s new chief in Jharkhand, barely three months before the assembly elections in the state.

The former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer has served as the minister of state for tribal affairs in the first term of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. He also headed the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) for two terms from 2010 onwards.

Though the 72-year-old leader comes from the state’s Palamu district, he represented the Lohardaga Lok Sabha seat, a part of the South Chhotanagpur division in Jharkhand, from 2004 to 2009.

As Oraon takes over the mantle in the tribal-dominated state headed to polls, his foremost and biggest challenge would be to discipline the warring camps in the state unit whose infighting has literally spilt over on to the streets in recent months. He took charge along with five working presidents.

Also read: Jharkhand cops, CRPF men booked for minor’s death

Elections to the 81-member Jharkhand assembly are scheduled for November-December.

The outgoing president Ajoy Kumar, 14 years junior to Oraon in the police service, resigned from the post on a bitter note on August 9. Kumar in his resignation letter had levelled allegations against some of his senior party colleagues, including Oraon, saying they placed “personal interests” above the party and indulged in “corrupt practices”.

The infighting in the state unit became an open secret soon after the Lok Sabha elections, as the Congress won just one of the eight parliamentary seats it contested as part of opposition grand alliance in Jharkhand. The state sends 14 representatives to the Lower House of Parliament.

Oraon said while speaking to HT he would take all measures to curb infighting and ensure that the state unit works as a team.

“I thank our national president for giving me this responsibility ahead of the assembly elections. My primary objective would be to end infighting and taking along all senior and junior colleagues to ensure the state unit works as a team,” Oraon said.

“Assembly elections are around the corner and we will together expose the Raghubar Das government and unseat the BJP from power,” he added.

Party insiders said the central leadership has through the new experiment tried to give representation to all dominant social groups in the state. While Oraon is a tribal, other appointees belong to the dominant Kurmi, minority and general categories.

The five working presidents are likely to get charge of the five administrative jurisdictions of the state, a party source said.

While the Bharatiya Janata Party is currently in power with a simple majority, Congress has nine members in the House. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) is the main opposition party with 19 legislators.

With around 26% population, tribals make the single biggest chunk of voters in the state. All parties in the state have tribal leaders at their helm.

Though the BJP experimented by anointing the first non-tribal—incumbent Raghubar Das—the chief minister in the state after 2014 assembly elections, it appointed a tribal, Laxman Gilua, its state unit chief.

In November 2017, the Congress also experimented by appointing non-tribal Ajoy Kumar as the Jharkhand Congress chief. Now, the party again has put a tribal leader on the driving seat.

“The appointment of Oraon seems to be aimed at consolidating the tribal and minority votes in the state, with Alamgir Alam already functioning as Congress legislature party leader. Both these leaders have largely remained away from controversies in the state unit,” said LK Kundan, who teaches political science at Ranchi University.

“In that context, it seems to be a well-thought decision. Oraon is a senior leader and that could come to his advantage in dealing with allies,” Kundan said.

Kundan, however, said the appointment of five working presidents in a relatively small state like Jharkhand also stands the risk of further stoking infighting as they might start functioning as new power centres.

“It’s an experiment that could go either way as it also shows the weakness of the state unit, which has several self-serving camps within. It seems to have been done to assuage different social groups, but it could also boomerang on the party,” he added.

First Published: Aug 27, 2019 12:58 IST