Ranchi: The ongoing political turmoil in Jharkhand took another dramatic turn as CM Hemant Soren, accompanied by over four dozen MLAs of the JMM-led alliance, embarked on a “picnic” at a tourist spot in nearby Khunti district, some 32 kilometres away from the state capital Saturday afternoon.
Even as the drama unfolded, there was no word from the governor’s office on whether a decision had been made to disqualify Soren on the ‘office of profit’ charge. All eyes are now on Governor Ramesh Bais who is yet to communicate his decision after having received the opinion of the Election Commission (EC) in this regard in a sealed envelope on 25 August.
Power circles in Ranchi waiting for the governor’s call with bated breath, CM Soren and his council of ministers — along with MLAs of the ruling alliance — held a three-hour meeting at the chief minister’s official residence Saturday to chalk out a strategy. This was the third such meeting of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and its coalition partners since Friday.
The ministers and legislators then boarded three Volvo buses to embark on a “picnic” to Latratu dam in Khunti district, according to a Congress MLA, who was part of the entourage. Soren’s outing with his MLAs and ministers comes amidst intense speculation that the opposition BJP might attempt to ‘poach’ legislators of the ruling alliance.
“We decided to go for an outing. We will return by evening after a meeting at the Latratu dam guest house,” the Congress MLA, who did not want to be named, told ThePrint.
A JMM MLA said on condition of anonymity there were some 44 MLAs in total on all three buses, adding: “It’s just a picnic. One should not read too much into it.”
This leaves three suspended Congress MLAs who are in West Bengal following their arrest on 30 July. They have since been released on bail but have to remain in Kolkata as per the bail conditions. One Congress MLA could not attend the meeting at the CM’s residence as she is unwell, a JMM leader who was on the bus told ThePrint.
Meanwhile, the whereabouts of one legislator part of the ruling coalition are not known.
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The ruling JMM-Congress-Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) combine has 49 MLAs in Jharkhand’s 81-member Legislature — JMM’s 30, Congress’s 18 and RJD’s 1 MLA. The lone CPI(ML) MLA, too, supports the JMM-led coalition. Opposition BJP has 26 MLAs as against the majority mark of 41.
The future of the Soren government has been hanging in the balance since EC Thursday conveyed its opinion to Governor Bais on an ‘office of profit case’ that could lead to the disqualification of the chief minister as an MLA.
The matter involves a petition filed before the governor on 11 February by BJP leaders including former chief minister Raghubar Das, seeking Soren’s disqualification as an MLA on the grounds that he allegedly allotted a mining lease to himself last year while he was also heading the mining department. Soren has since surrendered the mining lease.
But the governor referred the matter to the EC, which then sent a notice to Soren, asking him to respond to the charge that he allotted a mining lease to himself for a stone chips quarry on government land while holding the office of chief minister.
In its notice, the EC said it found that Soren’s actions were a prima facie violation of Section 9A of the Representation of People’s Act.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)
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