The stage is set for Hemant Soren to return as Chief Minister of Jharkhand, months ahead of assembly elections in the state. Champai Soren, an old party loyalist had taken over the reins of the state five months ago due to Hemant Soren’s arrest by Enforcement Directorate (ED) in an alleged money laundering case. Champai tendered his resignation on July 2.

Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’s (JMM’s) legislature party chose Hemant as its leader on July 2 and he has submitted a request to form the government to the Governor. INDIA bloc allies of JMM in the state – the Congress and the RJD – have endorsed the decision.

Also Read | Champai Soren feels ‘insulted’, to resign as Jharkhand CM amid Hemant’s return

Now Jharkhand Governor CP Radhakrishnan will decide on a date for the swearing-in of Hemant Soren and his cabinet.

The Return of Hemant Soren

Why did Hemant Soren decide to return as Chief Minister? The Jharkhand legislative assembly elections to elect 81 members are scheduled to be held in November–December 2024, anyway.

Hemant was granted bail by High Court on June 28. A week later, he is set to return as CM. This despite the ED reportedly planning to file a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court against the High Court’s order granting him bail.

In its bail order, the single HC bench of Justice Rongon Mukhopadhyay said “there was reason to believe” that Soren was not guilty of the offence as alleged by the ED and there was no likelihood of the petitioner committing a similar offence.” Soren will certainly use these remarks by the High Court as an ammunition against his rivals – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the run up to assembly polls, unless the probe agency gets a relief from the top court.

Also Read | Champai Soren quits as Jharkhand CM, Hemant Soren stakes claim to form govt

Hemant will certainly want to send out the message that he was kept in jail for five months in a ‘false’ case by the central investigating agency. This poll plank will help JMM in its political fortunes in the state, especially after it is upbeat after winning three seats in Lok Sabha elections 2024, compared to one seat it won in 2019 general elections

Jharkhand matters for INDIA bloc

Jharkhand, along with Maharashtra and Haryana, are going to polls later this year. But unlike Maharashtra and Haryana, the two NDA-ruled states, Jharkhand is the state where INDIA bloc has to defend its government. The ruling coalition has to fight anti-incumbency to seek re-election in the state. In 2019, when JMM won just one Lok Sabha seat in general election, it did well in assembly polls and unseated the BJP government led by Raghubar Das.

The Numbers

Hemant has staked claim to form the next government in Jharkhand. The current strength of the 81-member Jharkhand assembly is 76.

As things stand, the JMM-led alliance has a majority in the state assembly despite its numbers reducing to 45 MLAs. The JMM has 27 MLAs, the Congress has 17 and the RJD has 1. Two JMM MLAs, Nalin Soren and Joba Majhi, are now Lok Sabha members, while Jama legislator Sita Soren resigned to contest the general elections on a BJP ticket.

Also Read | Hemant Soren says BJP will be wiped out from Jharkhand after assembly elections

The JMM also expelled two other legislators – Bishunpur MLA Chamra Linda and Boriyo MLA Lobin Hembrom – from the party.

The BJP’s strength in the assembly has also reduced to 24 since two of its MLAs – Dhulu Mahto (Baghmara) and Manish Jaiswal (Hazaribag) – are now Lok Sabha MPs. The saffron party has expelled Mandu MLA Jaiprakash Bhai Patel after he joined the Congress to contest the polls.

The BJP’s response

The leadership change given the opposition BJP an ammunition to call the JMM a family-oriented party. Former CM and Jharkhand BJP chief Babulal Marandi has said the decision showed that tribal leaders outside the Shibu Soren family were only ‘kaam chalav’ for the party. Champai Soren is a tribal leader.

“The removal of a senior tribal leader from the post of Chief Minister by the JMM and the Congress is deeply distressing,” Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma, the BJP Jharkhand co-incharge, posted on X.

What next for Champai Soren

Some reports suggested that Hemant was not keen to return as Chief Minister. But, said the reports, the image of Champai Soren had taken a beating due to some allegations regarding his government. The JMM didn’t want to take that risk and hence Hemant decided to take over.

Also Read | Bihar-like caste-based survey in Jharkhand soon: All you need to know

Champai, however, reservations for being removed from the Chief Ministerial post months ahead of elections, according to a report in Indian Express. Champai also pointed out since Hemant was out on bail, there could be efforts to destabilise his government. The Indian Express report quoted an anonymous source saying that Champai Soren was against the ‘hurry.’

But, all INDIA bloc partners in the coalition government from the Congress and RJD, backed Hemant Soren to return as CM. Some of the leaders present at July 2 meeting of INDIA bloc asserted that the JMM won 2019 assembly elections under Hemant Soren and his leadership close to elections again would fetch results in favour of the ruling coalition. The leaders finally managed to convince Champai Soren to step down.

Champai is likely to be accommodated in the next Hemant Soren government as a minister. Champai is a popular leader in the Kolhan region, which sends 14 members to Jharkhand assembly.

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