Corruption The Clinching Issue?
With large-scale corruption involving state’s former Chief Mnister and ministers hogging media headlines during this phase of hectic electioneering other important issues like stability, price rise, unemployment, development etc appear to have taken the backseat in Jharkhand elections. Every star campaigner visiting election-bound assembly segments seems to be concentrating his/her speech on political corruption and cleansing the system. Although target of attack for majority of the leaders are former CM Madhu Koda and his cabinet colleagues, demands for an inquiry against all former CMs and ministers are also coming from some corners.
Madhu Koda, charged with Rs 4000-crore money laundering, who was defying repeated summons issued by various agencies probing the alleged disproportionate assets (DA) and hawala cases, was arrested on November 30 on the basis of non-bailable warrant issued by the Special Vigilance Court. Koda is country’s third former CM to have been put behind bars on corruption charges. Two others are: Former Bihar CM Lalu Prasad Yadav and former Tamil Nadu CM Jayalalithaa. Until the scam was unearthed on the last day of October, Koda was known as a low-profile politician as compared to the other former CMs of Jharkhand. Koda as CM had the support of Congress, JMM, RJD and independents and was made UPA coordinator in the state after JMM supremo Sibu Soren took over as Koda’s successor in September 2008.
While BJP is vociferous in its campaigns against corruption and Koda, Congress, JMM and RJD appear to be comparatively defensive. JMM chief Sibu Soren and RJD supremo Lalu Prasad are going soft on Koda and treating him as innocent till proven guilty by the court while Congress president Sonia Gandhi and general secretary Rahul Gandhi preferred not to speak against Koda and his corruption in their rallies. Congress’ Union Minister Ambika Soni’s comment that her party has no hesitation in accepting the support of would-be MLAs of Koda’s party if he (Koda) extended, invited sharp reactions from opposition. However, the very next day another Congress’ Union Ministers Ajay Makan and Subodh Kant Sahay clarified that their party would have no truck with Koda in post-poll scenario and Soni’s remarks were misinterpreted by the media. They said Koda was the creation of RSS-BJP and remained minister in BJP governments for about six years. BJP is directing its attack more on Congress than Koda saying: “Congress was responsible for elevating him as CM and extracting ill-gotten gains from him (Koda).” The CPI and CPM have described the Koda scam as the one directed by the Congress and demanded a probe into the assets of all the former CMs and ministers. No party appears interested in attacking Koda’s main associates Vinod Sinha and Sanjay Chaudhary and in possible involvement of bureaucrats as attacking them would not extract any political mileage or help fetch votes for them.
JMM will form government on its own—Sibu Soren
The founder and supremo of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Sibu Soren has fielded his candidates in all the 81 assembly segments of the state. He is the lone star campaigner for his party. Besides being a minister at the centre, Soren ruled the state twice for a combined period of 138 days and had to quit the chair of CM after he lost the Tamar assembly by-poll in January this year. In the 2005 assembly elections, JMM had emerged as the second-largest party with 17 MLAs. BJP was the single-largest party with 30 MLAs in the 81-seat assembly. Speaking to Uday India during his campaign for party candidate in Ranchi, Sibu Soren said Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar after 40 year of struggle waged by him but his political adversaries were not allowing him to rule the state. He was sore at his political detractors for not allowing him to shape the future of Jharkhand and put the state on the speedy path of development.
He claimed that JMM would win at least 50 seats in the assembly elections and would form the government in the state on its own. “Congress has betrayed us by aligning with Babulal Marandi and we would leave no stone unturned to teach them (Congress) a lesson. Every time we have gone in for a coalition, other parties have taken us for a ride and fooled us. That is why we feel more comfortable in fighting alone this time” he added. When asked for his comments on the multi-billion scam scripted by Koda and his associates, Soren refused to be dragged into the controversy and said law would take its course.
In reply to a question that in the face of a fractured mandate, who he would prefer to align with in the post-poll scenario–with the Congress-JVM combine of with the BJP-JDU combine, he said such a situation would not arise, as they would get the seats required to form the government on their own. All other parties are afraid of the growing popularity of JMM as it is the only political outfit formed and nurtured by the sons of the soil. His party is committed to the cause of protecting jal, jungle and zameen (water, forest and land) and providing employment to the youth.
About three-fourth members of the then Koda cabinet are facing serious charges of corruption and amassing wealth disproportionate to their known sources of income. It is probably the first instance of its kind in country’s political history that so many ministers of the same erstwhile cabinet are facing trials under corruption charges. Former Town Development Minister Harinarayan Rai and former Rural Development & Transport Minister Enos Ekka have been incarcerated in Birsa Munda Central Jail of Ranchi for over two months for allegedly exercising corrupt practices for illegal gains while being ministers in Koda government. Income Tax Department, Enforcement Directorate and State Vigilance Department are registering cases against them and charge sheets have already been filed against them.
Koda government’s Food & Civil Supplies Minister and NCP leader Kamlesh Kumar Singh was arrested by the State Vigilance Bureau on November 30 in connection with disproportionate assets case. A diary recovered from his residence by IT sleuths is said to have details of gifts worth Rs five crore received during the marriages of her two daughters. Congress was not a part of the Koda cabinet and had extended outside support; however, its Pakur MLA Alamgir Alam was elected Assembly Speaker. Hearing a PIL, the Jharkhand High Court has issued notice to Alam seeking his explanation over alleged irregularities in recruitments in Assembly and allegations of huge bribe money.
Political parties especially BJP are repeatedly demanding that the diaries of Koda and Kamlesh Singh recovered by IT sleuths be made public immediately as it allegedly contains the names of several leaders of UPA and amounts paid to them. State Vigilance Bureau also has approached the Income Tax Department for having a copy of the said diaries.
Corruption and price rise are main issues
BJP Member of Parliament from Jamshedpur Arjun Munda is the longest-serving Chief Minister of nine-year-old Jharkhand. Be it central or state leaders of BJP or his counterparts in opposition, Munda has addressed the largest number of political meetings across the length and breadth of the state to gauge the mood of public after the announcement of poll dates. In a free-wheeling tête-à-tête with Uday India he talks about challenges for and priorities of his party in the state. Excerpts:
What are the main issues of your party in this elections?
Corruption and price rise are the main issues. The Madhu Koda-led and Congress-JMM-RJD-backed mega scam has defamed Jharkhand in the entire country. We are of the firm view that Koda was only an actor, whereas the scriptwriter and director was 10 Janpath. Similarly, the country is reeling under the impact of steep rise in food items, pummelled by supply crunch of essential items like cereals, pulses, sugar, potatoes, onions and green vegetables. As per the latest official data, the wholesale prices of food articles have grown by 15.58 per cent this year, which is a tax on the poor without rise in their income. It is the result of Centre’s economic mismanagement and faulty policies.
What solution do you have in store?
We will ensure timely implementation of projects, good governance and corruption-free Jharkhand. Public servants amassing assets disproportionate to their income will be booked without delay while performers will be rewarded. Our manifesto says that the elected representatives would have to present themselves before the public forum for compulsory annual social audit. We have promised rice and wheat at Rs 1 per kg and salt at 25 paise per kg to BPL families.
How many seats do you expect to win in this elections for your party?
I am not an astrologer. However, I am confident people will vote us to power with a comfortable majority. In the Lok Sabha elections we won 8 seats out of 12 contested, which stands a testimony to the fact that in the eyes of voters only BJP is capable of giving a stable government.
BJP-JD(U) alliance in the state has not projected any leader as chief ministerial candidate. Is it due to your rivalry with state party president Raghuvar Das for the top post? Are you in the race for that post?
In BJP we don’t have the culture or tradition of entering into such race. CM is decided by the elected MLAs and party high command. We will look into the issue after results are out on December 23. At the moment, party’s rank and file is concentrating attention and efforts for ensuring the victory of candidates. I have very good relations with Raghuvarji and we are working in unison for party’s success in the state.
How much the Babulal Marandi factor is going to damage BJP’s prospects?
Not at all. The man who continued to harp on maintaining equi-distance from Congress and BJP and war against corruption for continuous three years, has virtually surrendered to the Congress–the inventor and protector of corruption–by agreeing on just 19 seats. I don’t think Congress sympathisers will vote for a man with two-decade-old background of RSS, VHP and BJP.
A large number of MoUs worth Rs lakhs of crores were signed with leading industrial houses during your tenure as CM but almost nothing came to the ground. What are the reasons?
Successive governments led by Madhu Koda and Sibu Soren and Governor during the President’s Rule had the responsibility to facilitate them the availability of required land and necessary infrastructure. However, several units are progressing. After voted to power, we will expedite the execution of projects agreed under MoUs.
Although politically conscious urban people talk about the corruption of Koda, his cabinet colleagues and other associates with contempt at workplace, social gatherings and morning walks but they don’t seem interested in taking up the cudgel to cleanse the system. The 26 assembly segments which went to poll on November 25 witnessed an average voting of 53 per cent but the poll percentage in urban areas was between 33 and 47 per cent only. Ranchi registered hardly 33, Hatia 39 and Kanke 44 per cent voters’ turnout respectively this time in comparison to 50-51 per cent during 2005 assembly elections. Social and political analysts attribute the growing apathy of the electorate to the ever-increasing cases of corruption against political leaders. The likes of Kodas would continue to thrive in Jharkhand if disenchantment of the voters towards polity continues to grow, they maintain. During his election visit to Ranchi on November 29, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley appeared concerned about the quality of politics in Jharkhand and said that only a stable government can stem the rot plaguing the state.
By P. Vatsal