Monday, February 02, 2009

Suspension of Disbelief

Fresh state assembly elections can be an escape route from the present miasmal state of politics in Jharkhand.

If what is happening in Jharkhand in the political realm is the “will of the people”, then certainly it must be a case of suspension of disbelief. Ever since the election of a hung assembly in 2005, the merry-go-round drama centred on the chief-ministerial chair has reduced democracy to a farce in the fledgling state.

After the conclusion of the 2005 elections, a 10-day long government, led by the perennial actor in Jharkhand politics, Shibu Soren of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), was followed by an 18-month administration under Arjun Munda of the Bharatiya Janata Party. But with the withdrawal of support by four independents, the Munda government fell, following which, strangely, an independent, Madhu Koda was elevated to the post of chief minister, supported this time by legislators belonging to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). The Madhu Koda dispensation gave way to yet another concoction led by Shibu Soren as chief minister. The latter was the result of a quid pro quo for the JMM’s support to the UPA in the dubious trust vote held in Parliament on 22 July last year. But Soren’s loss in a by-election in Tamar constituency held on 29 December resulted in the fall of the latest government, inviting president’s rule and the “suspended animation” of the assembly.

Shibu Soren, who returned to state politics after being acquitted in a murder case, was a sitting parliamentary legislator of the JMM from Dumka constituency. His return to state politics was necessitated following a diminution of political capital after having lost his cabinet post (the coal ministry) owing to the criminal case, after which the JMM withdrew from the UPA.Using the expeditious circumstances that required the JMM to help the UPA to win the trust vote, Soren orchestrated the downfall of the Madhu Koda dispensation and “seized” power in the state. It is no wonder that his loss in the Tamar by-elections was emphatic – the people have indicated that they have had enough of his political shenanigans.

Keeping the assembly in “suspended animation” serves no purpose. Soren has suggested yet another nominee from the JMM for the post of chief minister, clearly wanting to prolong this farce and obviously to retain power and influence, despite his ignominious loss in the elections. The UPA could be enticed to do that in return for the JMM’s pledging of support, or to secure the alliance with the JMM for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. But in every sense, the continuation of this farce of governance by another literal flip of the coin in the choice of a new chief minister would surely be a travesty of democracy. The ideal course of action should be to immediately dissolve the assembly, call for fresh elections, and invite a new mandate. For reasons of convenience, these elections should be scheduled appropriately to coincide with the upcoming parliamentary elections.

That the eight years since the formation of the state of Jharkhand have seen six governments is an indication of the level of political instability that has characterised it. The situation of unreliability has given rise to all kinds of political manoeuvring, disrespecting the verdict of the people. Even after government formation, an elaborate system of patronage, pandering to corporate interests in the mineral-rich state, and poor governance have been the norm, irrespective of which dispensation is in office. Power, enabling cronyism and influence in high places, has corrupted every party which has exercised it in the state. The cunning, the scheming, the treachery, the double-dealing, and the various self-serving combinations have made politics so full of machinations over here.

Following the bifurcation of the erstwhile united Bihar, the new state of Jharkhand was carved out of the mineral-rich and predominantly tribal regions. This was done to address the deprivation and inequality in these regions and to allot a separate federal unit for the tribal population. Those objectives remain still-born, as the abundance of minerals has only attracted and encouraged regimes of cronyism, corruption, and all kinds of wheeling-dealing, to the detriment of the development-yearning tribals. Shibu Soren’s crushing defeat indicates how fatigued the electorate is with this brand of politics and suggests that a return to the ballot box may be an escape route from the miasma that has characterised government formation in Jharkhand.

Editorial written for the Economic and Political Weekly

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