New Delhi, Jan. 10: Sonia Gandhi has emerged as the biggest obstacle as a desperate JMM leadership, Independents and Congress leaders from Jharkhand stepped up efforts to install a new coalition government in the state.
High-level sources indicated to The Telegraph that Sonia felt propping up any rag-tag coalition would yield little political gain to the Congress as was borne out by the Madhu Koda experience. She was sceptical about the ability of such governments to provide clean governance and remain stable.
Ignoring the advice of her party's political managers, Sonia told her aides that the Congress earned itself a bad name by backing Koda as chief minister and even this government surviving on the mercy of Independents would be vulnerable to all kinds of pressures.
Relying more on her instincts, Sonia's extraordinary demonstration of rigidity comes at a time when MLAs from Jharkhand ' CLP leader Rajinder Singh, PCC chief Pradeep Balmuchu ' AICC in-charge Shakeel Ahmed and a majority of her advisers are supporting the formation of an alternative government.
They feel the Congress was not prepared to face elections and even the fresh verdict was bound to be deeply fractured, denying the state the luxury of a stable government. The tug-of-war is still continuing and top leaders concede any decision could be taken after examining the whole gamut of issues.
JMM leader Hemant Soren met Shakeel Ahmed today and offered a long-term alliance with the Congress, arguing that the two parties were "natural allies" and the partnership with the BJP should be seen as circumstantial compulsion. The JMM leaders explained the Congress's alliance with Babulal Marandi's JVM had driven Shibu Soren towards the BJP even as the two parties had relations during Indira Gandhi's days.
One MLA said Hemant assured Ahmed "full cooperation" in the 2014 Lok Sabha election and avoided setting terms for alliance, leaving even the chief minister's post open for bargaining. He apparently said, "We want a long-term partnership and all other issues could be negotiated."
Even some Independent MLAs met Ahmed and assured support to the alternative government. They claimed the Ajsu, too, with six MLAs, would join the government.
Interestingly, Congress legislators were seen extolling Hemant's "maturity" in front of senior leaders, arguing he was "more sensible and trustworthy than his father" and that "his secular credentials" weren't in doubt. Some of them even recalled how political bungling damaged the party in Andhra Pradesh, indirectly warning the high command not to disrespect the wishes of the local leadership.
Rajinder Singh said they had now left the decision to the high command.
Ahmed said the real picture would emerge only after the governor sends his recommendation. "We are waiting for the governor's report. How can we pre-judge his decision," he argued, admitting that "negotiations were on" and a final decision could take some time.
Asked if the Congress would accept the JMM's proposal if it did not claim the chief minister's post, Ahmed said, "We are not discussing nitty-gritty at this stage. Discussions are all informal."
Some Jharkhand leaders appeared angry and frustrated, claiming Sonia was ill-advised about the ground realities in the state. One leader said, "A government can be installed in 30 minutes. We have the majority but the central leadership is dithering. This attitude will harm the party. We should understand the BJP has to be weakened before the 2014 polls. We have even heard that Arjun Munda was calling up Congress leaders and central ministers to convince them how an alliance with the JMM would harm us. We should not fall into this trap."
These leaders were perhaps failing to see the Congress's national compulsions at a time when it is being battered for corruption and Sonia is fighting to buttress the party's "holier-than-thou" claim.
The Congress is meeting in Jaipur next week for a mega event that is aimed at refurbishing the party's image and planning strategy for the future. Sonia may be justified in presuming that JMM wasn't the shining trophy she would like to flaunt at such an occasion.