Hemant Soren's arrest by ED and the enduring political instability in Jharkhand - Hindustan Times
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Hemant Soren's arrest by ED and the enduring political instability in Jharkhand

Feb 01, 2024 11:16 AM IST

Jharkhand is being left far behind by yet another tribal-dominated state Chhattisgarh that were formed together in November 2000.

Without a doubt, the arrest of the recently resigned chief minister of Jharkhand Hemant Soren by the Enforcement Directorate will compete with the presentation of the vote on account Budget as the trending news today. A veritable army of analysts and pundits will discuss and debate the issue threadbare. Some will point out how Hemant Soren is the third chief minister of Jharkhand to be arrested, after his father Shibu Soren and Madhu Koda. Some will argue about the impact it will have on the Lok Sabha elections and the possibility of a mini sympathy wave for Soren. Many will argue that “weaponised” agencies like the ED are taking things a bit too far. The author will leave such analysis to better-informed analysts.

Hemant Soren shows a thumbs up as he reaches Raj Bhavan to submit his resignation as Jharkhand chief minister to governor CP Radhakrishnan in Ranchi on Wednesday. (ANI)
Hemant Soren shows a thumbs up as he reaches Raj Bhavan to submit his resignation as Jharkhand chief minister to governor CP Radhakrishnan in Ranchi on Wednesday. (ANI)

What appears really intriguing in this sordid saga is how Jharkhand is being left far behind by yet another tribal-dominated state Chhattisgarh that were formed together in November 2000. Both were hopelessly poor; having suffered decades of neglect by their respective “parent” states Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. In 2000, there was hope among ordinary citizens in both states that more “representative” governments would improve the material life of families.

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Despite frequent stumbles, data indicates that Chhattisgarh has achieved some measure of success. Tragically for the people in Jharkhand, it has been mostly unending and enduring poverty and misery. As the accompanying chart shows, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh started their journey together as new states with similar levels of per capita income in 2000. More than two decades later, the per capita income of Chhattisgarh is more than 40% higher than that of Jharkhand. And the gap is widening. How did this come about? Remember, both states have been victims of sustained Maoist terrorism that has disrupted normal economic activity across large swathes for considerable periods of time. The ironic thing is while the Maoist insurgency seems to have waned in Jharkhand, the Maoists in Chhattisgarh continue to strike at and kill villagers and security personnel. Just a few days ago, they killed three and injured about a dozen more.

Let’s first dismiss some of the reasons trotted out by analysts and apologists to explain the failure of Jharkhand compared to Chhattisgarh. One reason offered is that because Jharkhand inherited widespread corruption from Bihar, it has not been able to break out of the vicious trap of endemic corruption. The fact is, no matter what the claims, corruption is widespread wherever there are minerals, natural resources and mines. Everyone is well aware that there is widespread corruption in Chhattisgarh. For that matter, even in neighbouring Odisha which is mineral and resource-rich, there is widespread corruption despite chief minister Naveen Patnaik enjoying a very clean image. So, it would be wrong to say that the misery being inflicted upon the ordinary people of Jharkhand is solely because of corruption.

Another reason doled out is that Jharkhand has witnessed chronic political instability ever since it became a state while Chhattisgarh has enjoyed political stability. To some extent, that appears to be true. Chhattisgarh has seen just four chief ministers in about 24 years, with Dr Raman Singh being at the helm for 15 continuous years. In contrast, Jharkhand has seen a veritable procession of chief ministers walking in and out. Analysts cite how Champai Soren replacing Hemant just about 10 months before assembly elections as a classic example. Of course, Jharkhand also holds the distinction of being a unique state where a sole independent MLA Madhu Koda became chief minister with the support of non-BJP parties and managed to survive for almost two years! But this is slightly misleading. Jharkhand has enjoyed political stability since 2014. Between then and 2019, there was a stable BJP-led government with Raghubir Das as chief minister. After that, the UPA led by Hemant Soren came to power and will almost certainly complete its five-year term despite the arrest.

Something even more intriguing emerges if one looks at the accompanying chart. During the period between 2000 and 2014 when Jharkhand faced chronic political instability, its per capita income managed to stay within touching distance of Chhattisgarh. The gap started really widening after 2014 when Jharkhand started enjoying political stability. Why this has come about is a mystery. The author has no expertise to unlock the mystery. But there is a possibility. Unlike Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand suffers from daily, rampant and unchecked extortion by small to big criminals who are “party workers”. That’s the Bihar legacy. There could be some merit to this logic if you look at West Bengal, another state that is actually regressing in economic terms. The most flourishing business in Bengal, as everyone knows, is “Tolabazi”.

(Sutanu Guru has been a journalist and author for 35 years. He is the executive director, CVoter Foundation)

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