Jan 12, 2009

India - Shibu Soren;Humiliating defeat

One of Shibu Soren's fond boasts was that no one knew Jharkhand as well as he did. He was the State's legendary tribal leader, one who claimed credit for its tumultuous birth in 2000. Yet all of this must seem remote to Jharkhand's newest Chief Minister, the sixth in eight years, as he faces yet another low point in his troubled career: a crushing defeat at the hands of political novice and rebel Jharkhand Party candidate, Gopal Krishna Patar alias Raja Peter. There are not many instances in independent India of a Chief Minister winning the trust vote but losing his own election thereafter. The irony is the greater given the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader's vaunted popularity among tribal people. What explains Mr. Soren's defeat by a margin of over 9000 votes? Obviously the answer lies in his unsavoury track record. Jharkhand's helmsmanship was a long-cherished dream that eluded him the more he craved it. On March 2, 2005, he took the oath of office at the head of a minority Ministry only to make an inglorious exit ten days later. That unedifying drama set the tone for the future as he wrestled with court cases, turned fugitive, and entered and exited the Union Council of Ministers. Mr. Soren finally wrested the chief ministership in a bargain that saw him extend life-saving support to the Manmohan Singh government in the Lok Sabha. By the terms of the original deal, Mr. Soren was to return to the Union Coal Ministry. But the JMM chief's eyes were set on chief ministership. It did not matter to him that his blatant ambition discomfited his backers in the Congress. Nor did it matter to him that the post he coveted was not vacant. He forced the exit of Chief Minister Madhu Koda by threatening to topple his Ministry. Yet the JMM chief ought to have known better than to employ threats and low cunning in a State that has seen a procession of Chief Ministers, each brought down by the machinations of rivals. After all, Mr. Koda, an independent MLA with a history of changing sides, had used similar means to become Chief Minister. There were others who bristled at Mr. Soren's presumptive claim. One among them, Jharkhand Party chief Enos Ekka, fielded a candidate against Mr. Soren. The contest should have been a cakewalk for the joint candidate of the UPA. In the event, his defeat spotlights the limitations of manipulative politics. Mr. Soren's personal history and the nature of Jharkhand politics suggest that he will not give up easily. Nonetheless, there is no escaping the message of the by-poll: Mr. Soren has lost credibility and must resign his office immediately.

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