Jharkhand Crisis: Amid Fears Of Poaching, CM Hemant Soren, Allies Shift MLAs To Unknown Destination

Sources said JMM-led coalition's MLAs are being moved to a friendly state like West Bengal or Chhattisgarh amid political crisis in Jharkhand.

Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren

Amid the deepening political crisis in Jharkhand due to the uncertainty over Chief Minister Hemant Soren's fate as an MLA, Soren and ruling coalition's MLAs were seen on Saturday leaving for some unknown destination on three buses.

Soren runs a government led by Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), which also comprises Congress and Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD). Buses of the coalition were guarded by security personnel. 

While it has not been officially confirmed, sources told PTI that MLAs are being shifted to a "friendly state" which could either be West Bengal or  Chhattisgarh — both states have non-BJP governments. Congress insiders have been saying since Friday that parking MLAs in a resort was on the cards to safeguard the government by  preventing attempts by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to poach coalition's MLAs.

The MLAs' departure by buses on Saturday happened soon after a marathon third round of a meeting of MLAs of the ruling alliance at Soren's residence. The ruling MLAs took part in the meeting along with their luggage.

A Congress source had earlier said that all arrangements have been made to park the coalition legislators in either Chhattisgarh or West Bengal. The source said three locations in Chhattisgarh, including Barmuda and Raipur, and some places in West Bengal have been identified.

"All ruling MLAs will be sent to a single destination if the need arises," another source said.

A JMM source said the option to take the legislators out of Jharkhand was open and all preparations have been made.

Photographs of the MLAs in boats and buses have also surfaced. Moreover, MLAs and ministers have talked lightly of their move and have not linked it with the ongoing political crisis, saying they are on a "picnic" and are off to have "mutton bhaat" in a nearby tourist town. 

State Rural Development and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Alamgir Alam claimed the MLAs were going for a "picnic at Moments Resort in Latratu in neighbouring Khunti district".

Incidentally, Alam had on Friday said that the MLAs of the ruling alliance cannot be poached and will stay in Ranchi.

Another minister, Banna Gupta, also claimed that the MLAs were going to Latratu and would return by evening.

Congress legislator Deepika Pandey Singh said it was a "break for refreshment".

Another MLA, Shilpi Neha Tirkey, said, "We will follow the directions of the party."

In the rapidly changing political scenario, 'resort politics' is the need of the hour to keep the numbers of the ruling alliance intact, JMM sources asserted.

Soren is facing disqualification as an MLA for violating electoral norms by extending a mining lease to himself. The BJP, the petitioner in the case, has sought Soren's disqualification for violating Section 9 (A) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, which deals with disqualification for government contracts.

The issue was referred to the governor and by him to the Election Commission (ED), as Article 192 of the Constitution states that on rulings regarding an MLA's disqualification, the question shall be referred to the governor who in turn "shall obtain the opinion of the Election Commission and shall act according to such opinion".

The EC sent its opinion to Governor Ramesh Bais on August 25. Meanwhile, Raj Bhavan sources said the governor may take a call by Saturday evening on the EC views on "disqualification" of Soren as an MLA and send the disqualification order to the commission.

Soren's JMM-led ruling coalition has 49 MLAs in the 81-member Assembly. The JMM is the largest party with 30 MLAs, the Congress has 18 MLAs, and the RJD has one MLA. The main Opposition BJP has 26 MLAs in the House.

The coalition partners had on Thursday claimed that there was no threat to the government. The JMM had exuded confidence that Soren will remain the chief minister for full term till 2024.

(With PTI inputs)