It would be very unusual for a chief minister to appoint a chief secretary who has served under his predecessor. Apart from being unconventional, it is usually a matter of policy and priorities of the new incumbent. But P P Sharma, who served under Arjun Munda of the BJP between 2004 and 2006 and was dropped, came back to office in 2007 under Madhu Koda who was backed by the Congress. Sharma is presently under investigation for his role in the allotment of four coal mines to the Abhijeet Group during his two tenures, and for later becoming a director in the same group.
It is indicative of the deeper malaise in a state where shameless eagerness to exploit its rich natural resources cuts across parties, politicians and bureaucracy. Greed knows no bounds and the political drama enacted every now and then is only a result of an unembarrassed fight over control of mining blocks. Politics is all about grabbing power to control coal, iron ore, bauxite and lime stone mines which are the richest in the country with unfortunate tribals caught in the crossfire. Jharkhand is easily the most politically unstable state in the country with Goa coming a close second. State governments don’t last for more than a year on an average. For chief ministers it’s a revolving door policy. If you stay put in your door cubicle long enough with the backing of the right interests you will come back to office with the next push. So amazingly governments fall, elections and President’s Rule happens but the dramatis personae don’t change.
Consider the present scenario. Munda was backed by JMM five of whose 18 MLAs became ministers in his government. Deputy Chief Minister Hemant Soren also held the mining portfolio. It lasted 28 months before JMM asserted its rights to chief minister’s position under what it claims was an arrangement agreed upon when they extended support to Munda. Not surprisingly, the JMM is now looking to the Congress to shore it up. On the other hand even as the Congress is considering this, its Assembly alliance partner JVM(P), led by Babulal Marandi, wants mid-term elections. Munda has already advised the governor that dissolution of Assembly would be best. Thirty-seven of the 82-member House agree with him but Governor Syed Ahmed Ansari is to take a call after consulting the Centre.
“Since the JMM has supported us at the Centre, we may like to form a government with them,” says Congress leader of Opposition Rajendra Prasad Singh. PCC President Pradeep Balmuch and JMM’s Sorens are already in Delhi to consult senior Congress leaders.
The Congress may bite the apple despite its previous bitter experience with the JMM. Such is the nature of politics in Jharkhand. No alliance is sacrosanct. No price too big to pay. No enemy too permanent and no friend indispensable. The only underlying principle is that each faction has to play the game in the name of tribals with a tribal leader as its chief ministerial candidate. So the characters—Munda, Marandi, Guruji—don’t change. Yashwant Sinha, Subodh Kant Sahai and Inder Namdhari have tried their hands at bringing about real change, but Jharkhand remains essentially tribal, and perhaps indigenous leaders are more easily controlled. The fight is over who controls the mines.
The stakes are too high to be ignored easily. Illegal coal mining itself is worth some `8,000 crore a year with mafias, MNCs and every small and large company benefiting from it. “The larger companies now want to push out the mafia and control the blocks directly as has emerged over the past six-seven years,” says an NGO worker from Latehar. Koda, a tribal, is being investigated in a `4,000-crore mining scam. The Income Tax Department has started a probe against Munda for his role in diverting 5,600 hectares of forest land for iron ore mining. His wife Meena Munda is also facing IT investigations for a 40 per cent share in the Birsa Munda transport company.
The interference of big money is clear from the fact that nearly two dozen steel and power companies are under the CBI scanner. These include Grace Industries, DB Power, Pushp Steel & Mining, NSL Powers and Infratech Ltd, Vimmi Iron & Steel Udyog, Visa Power , GVK Powers , Kohinoor Steel Pvt Ltd, Rungta Projects, SKS Ispat, Navbharat Industries, Rashmi Cement, Jus Industries, Reliance Power, AMR, Vandana Global, JMD Yawatmal and Green Infrastructure. Most of these companies made doubtful statements to corner coal blocks, but a few have satisfied investigators with proof that they are genuine investors.
Unfortunately the most misunderstood fact related to allotments here is that coal and iron ore are directly allotted by the Central Government. It’s done on the recommendation of the state government, and the chief secretary is part of the three-member screening committee that makes allotments. For instance, Koda made a recommendation that the richest iron ore block in the country Chiriya be taken away from SAIL and divided between private firms. Thus the control of the state government is equally important. And there lies the key to what the Congress will do now.