Former Chief Minister and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) leader Hemant Soren is quite upbeat about the upcoming elections in Jharkhand. With just 11 days to go for polling day, Soren has claimed that at least one dozen MPs and MLAs from BJP are looking to jump ship and are in touch with him.
In an interview with News18, Soren spoke about whether the Supreme Court's recent verdict on the Ayodhya land dispute will have any impact on the assembly polls, how talks with alliance partners are coming along, the effect of a five-phased election and veracity of claims that BJP is likely to collapse in the state.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is soon expected to address rallies in Palamu, other national stalwarts of the party will also address the people of Jharkhand in campaign rallies where among other things, the Supreme Court's recent Ayodhya verdict could be a talking point, does this worry you?
There is a place to talk about national issues. It is called Lok Sabha. That's where people have given the BJP majority so that it can effectively deal with national issues. The upcoming elections are for the state of Jharkhand. If we also talk about national issues in these polls, then where will we talk about the issues of Jharkhand? In the campaign of Jammu and Kashmir or Gujarat?
Here people are dying of hunger, youths don't have jobs, people don't have money, banks are collapsing, infrastructure is nowhere. In all major indices, from hunger to education, Jharkhand has slipped under BJP Chief Minister Raghubar Das' tenure. Since the state of Jharkhand was created, the last five years have been the worst, by far.
But you also raised these issues of hunger-related deaths, of forest rights etc, in Lok Sabha polls and they did not seem to have found any resonance with people.
It's not as if these issues did not find any resonance with people. Look at the results of the five reserved Lok Sabha seats. BJP managed to just scrape through.
Why is your alliance (with Congress and Rashtriya Janata Dal) dithering on the issue of declaring you as the CM face?
There is no confusion. Congress leader RPN Singh has clearly stated that Hemant Soren will be the CM face of the alliance. There is no confusion now. On the other hand you should ask the same question to BJP. Till very recently they used to say that Raghubar Das was their CM face. Why aren't they saying this now? Why are they suddenly quiet on the issue? Ask them to clarify who their CM face is. BJP is a sinking ship.
Do you consider recent developments like their senior leader Sarayu Rai's quitting the party, and their alliance partner AAJSU's breaking ranks with BJP, as indicators?
It isn't just that. You look anywhere and you'll find that BJP's Jharkhand unit is in a state of collapse. There is rampant infighting within BJP and open tussle with BJP's alliance partners. Why are AAJSU, JD(U), LJP fighting these polls individually? There is pandemonium in BJP's ranks. It is clear that they cannot carry alliance partners with them. And because of the arrogance of their top leadership, their old hands, who feel slighted, are trying to find a way out.
Are any of them in touch with you?
At least one dozen BJP MPs and MLAs have contacted me. They want to switch over. They know BJP is a sinking ship. Public sentiment is palpably against them.
How do you look at the decision by the Election Commission to conduct the polls over five phases?
For someone like us, a state political outfit, it is a huge challenge. For someone like the BJP, it wouldn't matter much. They have unlimited resources and cadre which they shift wherever they want, however many times they want. Our worker cannot leave everything else and only do this. In other circumstances, it should have broken the morale of our workers but our morale is quite high. People are quite aggressive. Everyone wants to see the BJP out. There is no tolerance for the present dispensation.
And while as a political outfit we respect the decisions of the EC, to be honest, I don't understand the logic of having the elections in five phases. The BJP kept talking about 'double engine ki sarkar' when they formed governments both at the Centre and the state. They talked about finishing the Naxals and bringing development to the state with double the speed. But now the EC itself has indicated, by conducting elections over five phases, that everything is not fine in the state; that the Naxal menace is far from over. They should admit that.
Almost every party is announcing reservation in poll campaigns these days. You have also announced 75% reservation in private jobs for youths and 50% reservation to women in jobs. Could you explain the logic behind this?
The decision to announce reservation in jobs for women isn't new. I decided to do it when we were in power in our previous term but the successive BJP government decided against it. In our state women have been working really hard for their families. There are districts where women outnumber men. They are a significant working force. But when we see outside, we find, for similar job profiles, women from Kerala being referred to as 'nurses' and those from Jharkhand being referred to as 'Dai'. It shames me. The same holds true for the youth, which today doesn't have any jobs. If youths find jobs and get good education they will be able to help improve literacy levels in their districts and raise the employability of those around them as well. This is not about votes. This is about helping the future generations flourish.
Tejashwi Yadav had met you just before seat sharing was announced by you and the Congress. You had announced him as an alliance partner but RJD has reportedly been unhappy with seat distribution. Is RJD still on board?
RJD is very much part of the alliance. We are all working towards finalising our campaigning and soon you will see Tejashwi-jee campaigning with us.
BJP’s slogan this time is 'Ab ki baar 65 paar'. How do you assess their position. Also have you set a target for the alliance?
Issuing and working in numbers are tropes of the business community. We have been a group of political activists. We don't speak that language. We only talk about victory or defeat. We think we will win and win big.