As fate of the Jharkhand Chief Minister hangs in balance, Hemant Soren government has called a special session of the state assembly where the ruling alliance is likely to bring a “confidence motion” and put the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the back foot.
Amid poaching fears, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and its allies shifted some of its MLAs to a resort in Congress-ruled in Chhattisgarh last week. They have accused the BJP of trying to topple the government in Jharkhand.
Earlier on Thursday, leaders of the ruling alliance told Governor Ramesh Bais that “leaks” from Raj Bhavan were “creating political instability” amid uncertainty over Hemant Soren’s leadership. The leaders also complained about the alleged attempts by the BJP to poach MLAs of the ruling coalition, while also asking the governor to “clear the air” about the Election Commission’s take on Soren’s disqualification as an MLA.
The BJP had petitioned Soren’s disqualification from the assembly in an office of profit case regarding a mining lease. The EC sent its decision over the matter to Bais on August 25, and is yet to be made official. There is, however, a buzz that the poll panel recommended the CM’s disqualification as an MLA. The Raj Bhavan has not officially announced anything on the matter since then.
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The ruling coalition, however, asserted that the CM’s disqualification as MLA will not affect the government, as it enjoyed an absolute majority in the 81-member legislative assembly.
How Numbers Stack Up in Jharkhand Assembly
The JMM is the largest party in the Jharkhand Assembly with 30 MLAs, followed by BJP’s 26 MLAs. Congress has 18 legislators, All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU) has two, while RJD, CPI(ML), NCP have one MLAs each. The JMM-led alliance has 49 MLAs which is more than enough to secure a comfortable victory in trust vote.
Meanwhile, Congress has sent a letter to speaker Rabindra Nath Mahato, seeking disqualification of its three MLAs under the anti-defection law. Congress legislators Irfan Ansari, Naman Bixal Kongari and Rajesh Kachhap were arrested in Howrah by the West Bengal Police on July 30 with cash.
According to news agency PTI, the Speaker may take a call on a case pertaining to anti-defection charges against BJP legislator and former chief minister Babulal Marandi. The speaker had initiated the anti-defection proceedings in December 2020 after Marandi merged his Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) with the BJP in February that year and was unanimously elected the leader of BJP legislative party.
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HOW DID CRISIS BEGIN?
Former Jharkhand chief minister Raghubar Das of the BJP in February accused Soren of allotting the mining lease for a stone quarry, spread over 0.88 acres in Ranchi’s Angara block, to a company held by him in May 2021 and it getting clearance in June last year.
Shivshankar Sharma, an RTI activist, filed two PILs demanding CBI and ED probe into the Jharkhand mining scandal. Soren is also accused of investing in shell companies.
The BJP then approached the governor and sought Soren’s disqualification for granting the lease to himself. The governor, in turn, wrote to the Election Commission under Article 192 of the Constitution for its opinion.
Soren’s disqualification is also sought for violating Section 9A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, which prohibits elected representatives from entering into any contract with the government for “supply of goods” or “execution of any works undertaken” by it.
In May this year, the EC had issued a notice to Soren, seeking his response to the complaint. News18 had earlier reported that Soren’s legal team concluded its arguments before the EC on August 12, following which the BJP gave a rejoinder. On August 18, both the sides gave their written submissions to the poll panel.
ALSO READ: Facing Disqualification, Soren Digs Deep to Evade Mining Mess, But Will Jharkhand Be The Next Maharashtra?
WHAT IS THE CONCEPT OF OFFICE OF PROFIT?
The concept was introduced to prevent conflict of interest for members of Parliament and legislative assemblies, who primarily hold government accountable, to that of the executive. Holding an office of profit is seen to make them vulnerable to government influence and may hamper their ability to perform their role properly.
It owes its genesis to the British Parliamentary model, which deems certain non-ministerial offices incompatible with membership of Parliament.
The Constitution provides for disqualification of lawmakers for holding the office of profit under Article 102 (1). As per interpretations in court judgments, a position that brings to the officeholder, who is also a lawmaker, financial gains or advantage or benefit can be defined as the office of profit, the Hindustan Times reported.
WHAT IS SOREN’S DEFENCE?
Soren’s lawyers told the EC that the mining lease was not executed and he sought cancellation of the consent to operate it in February, which means he did not get any benefit from the lease. Soren contended that Section 9A was not applicable in this case as the mining lease is not a government contract.
WHAT ARE SOREN’S OPTIONS NOW?
If the Governor announces the disqualification, Soren loses his assembly membership. This means he and his cabinet will have to resign. However, since one doesn’t need to be an MLA for the chief minister’s chair, Soren can simply retake his crown.
There is some confusion. If a legislator is disqualified under the anti-defection law, he cannot be minister until re-elected as MLA. But in Soren’s case, the disqualification is not under the anti-defection law but Section 9A of the Representation of People Act. Whether one needs to be re-elected for this too hasn’t been settled yet by any constitutional court.
The EC has to hold a bypoll within six months after Soren’s seat falls vacant. Soren can re-contest and get the seat back. However, the JMM-Congress alliance may have to elect someone else to be the chief minister if he is unable to occupy the chair until then. Soren can later return as chief minister.
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