The defeat in a by-poll of Jharkhand chief minister Shibu Soren can only be described as surprising. Usually, such events are scripted beforehand and any correlation they may have with popular will is, at best, weak. But what happened at the hustings in the Tamar assembly constituency was astounding: Soren lost to a novice, Gopal Krishna Patar, by around 8,000 votes. In Jharkhand politics this is a 7.0 on the Richter scale event.
Jharkhand is a state that has been beset with political instability right since its creation eight years ago in November 2000. No chief minister has completed a five-year term. Defections, independent legislators turning into kingmakers and utter lawlessness in the countryside have been the salient features of political life in the state. A small legislative assembly (with 81 legislators), a political landscape divided along tribal lines and a legacy of gravely weakened institutions inherited from its parent state, Bihar, have contributed to this sorry situation.
In the instant case, however, a large part of the blame must be laid on the doorstep of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. In a bid to save its government and the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, the UPA’s political managers vacuum-cleaned all political allies who could save the government. Soren, who was embroiled in a murder case, came in handy, as did his Jharkhand Mukti Morcha.
The tacit bargain stuck at that time, that Soren would vote for the UPA in Parliament and would in turn have a free hand in Jharkhand, made a mockery of representative politics. Soren, one could say, simply walked into government last August. He ousted chief minister Madhu Koda, himself an independent who had earlier ousted another chief minister by “walking out” with the right numbers of legislators.
His defeat is unlikely to change things in Jharkhand. In the fractured electoral landscape of India, states with weak institutions of governance stand little chance to improve their lot. At a time when every single member of Parliament counts in forming governments at the Centre, states such as Jharkhand come in handy to secure these numbers. It’s another matter that the people of the state deserve better.
Shibu Soren’s defeat: unexpected or foretold? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org