Champai Soren Kept On Hold By Governor, MLAs To Be Moved Out Of Jharkhand

Champai Soren is expected to replace Hemant Soren as Chief Minister after the latter was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate late last evening on money laundering allegations.

Champai Soren is a senior member of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (File).


The crisis in Jharkhand - without a Chief Minister since Hemant Soren was arrested - ramped up Thursday evening after 43 lawmakers from the ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-Congress-Rashtriya Janata Dal alliance were herded into buses and driven away, heralding the start of "resort politics".

The MLAs were taken to Ranchi's Birsa Munda Airport and put on chartered planes - under the watchful eyes of Champai Soren, the alliance's Chief Minister pick - bound for Congress-ruled Telangana.

However, bad weather forced a change of plans. Late night visuals from the airport showed heavy fog, meaning the planes, after a brief taxi, were forced to return to the terminal, and the MLAs were driven back to the Circuit House (a government guest house) in the city, which is around 4 km away.

The Jharkhand lawmakers had been scheduled to land at the Begumpet Airport in Hyderabad, also called Old Hyderabad Airport, and rooms had been booked at the Taj Krishna and other hotels in the city. 

"We are going to the airport... you know what kind of people they (the BJP) are... they can do anything at any time. A total of 43 MLAs are going..." the Congress' Jharkhand chief, Rajesh Thakur had said.

Visuals shared by news agency ANI earlier Thursday showed a convoy of vehicles, including a luxury passenger bus with MLAs inside, waving to reporters, leaving Circuit House.

Hours before that Champai Soren, the JMM's pick to replace Hemant Soren, met and urged Governor CP Radhakrishnan to invite him to form the next state government. "We have demanded that the process to start formation of the new government begin. Governor has assured us it will start soon."

"We have submitted the report with 43 MLAs in our support. We expect the number will reach 46-47... so there is no problem. Our 'gathbandhan', or alliance, is very strong," Champai Soren added.

Mr Soren met Mr Radhakrishnan at his Raj Bhawan residence in Ranchi with five MLAs in tow.

Sources said the Governor was also shown a 49-second roll-call video of all MLAs backing Mr Soren, who is a senior member of the JMM and a seven-time MLA.

READ | "1,2,3...": Video Shows Jharkhand MLAs' Roll Call Amid Uncertainty

The meeting between Champai Soren and the Governor followed an emotional appeal in which Mr Soren, widely seen already as a Chief Minister-in-waiting, urged the latter to take immediate action.

"...there is no government for 18 hours. There is a situation of confusion. Being the constitutional head, we expect you will soon take steps for the formation of a popular government..." he wrote.

READ | "No Government For 18 Hours": Champai Soren To Jharkhand Governor

Jharkhand Political Crisis: The Numbers Game

The Jharkhand Assembly has 81 members, meaning the majority mark is 41.

The JMM-Congress-RJD alliance has 47 MLAs, of whom 29 are from Mr Soren's party and 17 are from the Congress. The RJD of former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Yadav has one.

The BJP has 25 MLAs and the AJSU, or All Jharkhand Students Union, has three. The remaining seats are divided between the NCP and a Left party (one each) and there are three independent MLAs.

If the 43 MLAs currently backing Champai Soren remain committed to their man, the former Transport Minister will, at least based on numbers, be invited to form the new government.

However, should even one lawmaker waver, that will open the door for the BJP to snatch an opposition-ruled state just months before the Lok Sabha election.

The saffron party will need at least 15 other lawmakers to back it, though. Three of those 15 could be independent lawmakers and three others could be from the AJSU. The other nine will have to be poached from the Congress, JMM or RJD, a scenario that might explain sequestering of the MLAs.

Hemant Soren Arrested

Champai Soren was, late last evening, chosen as the legislative party leader of the JMM; this was after Hemant Soren stepped down and was arrested by the central agency.

Earlier today a special court in Ranchi sent Hemant Soren to judicial custody for a nominal one-day period. This was because Mr Soren has already moved the Supreme Court to challenge his arrest.

READ | Hemant Soren Jailed For A Day, Probe Agency Custody Decision Tomorrow

He also called his arrest "illegal and without jurisdiction"; Mr Soren has already filed one case against senior officers of the probe agency under the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes Act.

A bench led by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud agreed to hear the plea at 2 pm Friday.

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