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Cong's Jharkhand dilemma: Soren wants to be king not kingmaker

By Renu Mittal
Last updated on: December 24, 2009 01:49 IST
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With the Congress and its allies winning 25 seats and emerging as the single largest alliance in Jharkhand, the party has begun exploring options of forming the next government in the state realising that they have to do business with Jharkhand Mukti Morcha's Shibu Soren who now controls the levers of power in the state having won 18 seats in the assembly elections.

Congress leaders, however, say they will go slow and wait for things to fall in place, even willing for a protracted negotiation with Soren, who at the moment has only one demand, to become the chief minister of the state.

Sitting pretty in his Bokaro residence where he called a meeting of his close confidantes late Wednesday night, Soren is for the moment not willing to negotiate on any issue except the chief ministership. But senior Congress leadership, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, have grave reservations on Soren as there are cases against him and the party would do everything within its power to get his support but keep him off the chief minister's chair.

For the moment, the party says it is exploring all options. A senior leader said that they would like to make Marandi the chief minister whose party has won 10 seats, and make Soren's son Hemant Soren as the deputy chief minister. But if Soren does not give in to pressure then, as a last resort, the party may agree to his becoming the chief minister.

In that case, Marandi may be brought to the Centre and the Congress may even think of giving outside support.

Marandi has reportedly stated that if Soren is part of the alliance, then he would be out of it. Interestingly, the RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav, whose party won 5 seats, is already in touch with senior Congress leaders, wanting a slice of the power cake.

Senior congress leaders say their priority is to keep the BJP out of power.

While the Congress has put up a creditable performance, what has come as a surprise is the continued and continuing downslide of the BJP, which won only 18 seats -- a substantial come down from its earlier position. The BJP alliance has 20 seats with the JD-U having won 2 seats.

A number of senior leaders have lost the election this time around. Congress leader and Deputy Chief Minister Stephen Marandi lost the Dumka seat, which he had won six times in a row; senior JMM leader and former deputy chief minister Sudhir Mahato also lost the Icchagarh seat; senior Congress leader and Jharkhand Assembly speaker Alamgir Alam lost his Pakur seat; Jharkhand Pradesh Congress Committee President Pradeep kumar Balmuchu lost the Ghatsila seat; and former Union minister and Congress leader Rameshwar Oraon lost the Mainkar seat.

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Renu Mittal in New Delhi