In Jharkhand, Congress prefers late elections

A day after the legislators’ resignation on Sept 9, the first indication of the Congress’ poll preparation came when a high-powered central team of Congress leaders comprising Mukul Wasnik, Harikesh Bahadur, Shakeel Ahmed and Abdul Mannan reached the state and launched deliberations with local Congress leadership and party workers over the future course of action.

The team will submit its report to Congress president Sonia Gandhi within a week after taking stock of the affairs within the state party unit. It will also seek the opinion of the local leadership on the pros and cons of entering into an alliance with the JMM and other like-minded parties.

The team’s visit is indicative of the Congress’ eagerness to regain its grip on a state where it fared badly, winning only one seat in the 2009 general elections, five down from its tally of the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. On the other hand, its ally, the JMM, had to be content with only two seats as against four seats in the 2004 elections. Analysts see this as a reaction to the political uncertainty the state has gone through since the last elections in 2005, largely due to the political experiment of the UPA central leadership, which included the elevation of an Independent legislator Madhu Koda as chief minister.

Much to the consternation of the Congress leadership, the functions of the gubernatorial office too has come under the scanner after the CBI crackdown on two close aides of former governor Syed Sibtey Razi and the suspension of IAS officer Avinash Kumar on the charge of amassing wealth beyond his known sources of income. Kumar was appointed officer on special duty (OSD) to Razi once President’s rule was imposed on Jan 19, 2009.
Against the backdrop that no political party or a coalition of parties has staked claim to form an alternative government since the state was brought under President’s rule and no party appears to be in a position to form the government in the future, the Assembly’s suspended animation appears to be a political compulsion for the Congress.

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If the results of the 2009 parliamentary elections are any indication, the Congress led only in the nine Assembly segments, whereas the BJP took the lead in as many as 47. In a sense, this explains the reason behind the Centre sitting over the issue of election in Jharkhand despite Home Minister P Chadambaram’s assurance to parliament that elections would be held after monsoon.

On the other side of the political spectrum, the BJP’s aggressive push for early Assembly polls is understandable. The BJP is on cloud nine in the wake of its victory in eight of the 14 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state. The BJP has also planned to stage a gherao of Raj Bhavan on Oct 11 to press for early elections.

The Congress describes the en masse resignation of BJP legislators a political drama. “Everyone knows that term of the House will expire in March 2010,” says Congress spokesperson Ravindra Singh.

“Why didn’t they resign when President’s rule was imposed on the state?” he asked.
This is countered by the BJP. “In all fairness to the democratic set up, the imposition of President’s rule for six months is justified. But there is no justification for its continuation beyond that period now. The Congress is setting a wrong precedence and Chidambaram has served to cheat the people of Jharkhand by assuring in parliament that the Centre would hold elections soon after monsoon,” says state BJP chief Raghuvar Das.

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