Hemant Soren: JMM, Congress on the same page on Rajya Sabha polls

Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren on Sunday indicated that the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), his party, and the Congress, its ally, had buried their differences over a Rajya Sabha seat up for grabs from the eastern state in an election scheduled for June 10.

Soren said he held an “extensive” discussion with Congress president Sonia Gandhi here the evening before on a number of political issues. The meeting lasted more than an hour.

“There is a consensus that the coalition will have one candidate for the Rajya Sabha seat,” said Soren, who has been under the Enforcement Directorate (ED) scanner for a number of alleged irregularities. He added that the candidate’s name would be announced from Ranchi.

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Elections to 57 Rajya Sabha seats, including two from Jharkhand, were necessitated by the retirement of 57 members from 15 states between June and August last year. The last date for filing nominations is May 31.

At its legislative party meeting last week, the JMM decided to field a candidate for the one Upper House seat that will go to the ruling coalition. The Congress state unit also staked a claim, pointing out that in 2020 the seat went to JMM leader and Hemant’s father Shibu Soren. In the 81-member Jharkhand Assembly, the JMM has 30 MLAs, the Congress 18, and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) one. The BJP has 26 legislators and won one of the two Rajya Sabha seats in the last election.

Soren’s visit to the national capital and the meeting with the Congress president is seen as an attempt to avoid a clash between the coalition partners at a time when he needs his ally’s support amid a series of ED investigations and raids. The agency is investigating a money laundering case related to alleged irregularities in the disbursement of MGNREGA funds and alleged money laundering in the allocation of a mining lease. The Election Commission (EC) has deferred to June 14 its hearing into office-of-profit accusations against Soren. The Jharkhand CM has to appear before the poll panel in person.

Talking to a group of journalists, Soren accused the BJP of using investigative agencies in a “witch hunt” against its political opponents and “discriminating” in the disbursement of funds for government schemes.

“BJP is a big party. But since day one of us taking over the government in Jharkhand, it has been after us. We are all seeing how the party at the Centre is using agencies and the condition of the institutions in this country. The other day we saw Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan being given a clean chit. I am seeing the ED charges against me also through the same prism,” he added.

Soren said that though the probe began a long ago, the ED had not yet given any details or explanation about the charges against him. “Even for this MGNREGA scam, they have taken a different route. No questions were asked to the district officials involved. The intention is clear. They are desperate to take the case in a different direction,” he alleged.

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The CM, who criticised the BJP for “not doing anything for tribals” in the Adivasi-dominated Jharkhand during its rule, said the state had not witnessed a single agitation by non-BJP parties or groups during his government’s tenure. “That’s because the people know I am a son of the soil and that I will take care of their issues,” he added.

Soren also accused the Central government of discrimination in the distribution of funds among states. “So far, under different departments, the Centre has to release Rs 1.36 lakh crore for the state. In 2021, payment for 24 days of work under MGNREGA is unpaid and payment is due for 13 weeks in this financial year too,” he said

The JMM leader, however, expressed confidence that “nothing can touch him or threaten him”.

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