The son who would be CM
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Hemant Soren, till then deputy chief minister and the JMM's legislature party leader, announced on January 7 the result of two days of brainstorming by party leaders: "We talked to our coalition partners (BJP)... In the absence of a consensus, the party decided we should withdraw support to this government."
He did not mention a time for withdrawal; he said the JMM had authorised its president to make that call. The message was ambiguous: the JMM would withdraw support, but there was a possibility of negotiations with the BJP.
Barely 15 minutes later, Hemant returned, this time with father Shibu Soren by his side, and without ambiguity. "We have decided to withdraw support to the government. It was too late to go to the governor today; we will go tomorrow," said Shibu, Guruji to his supporters.
The widely held perception has been that Hemant, 37, has been the prime motivator behind the latest controversy. He risked splitting the party over withdrawing support to the Arjun Munda government, but had his way. "If we have a chief minister, it will be Hemant," asserts a senior JMM leader who has worked with both father and son.
And yet there are no plans of making Hemant the JMM president. Shibu is not even considering relinquishing that position, not least because his son is nowhere as charismatic as him. "Watching Guruji these days, many may have concluded that he has grown old, weak, that he is no longer in control," said a source who has closely watched father and son work. "This is very wrong. Guruji is very much at the centre of things; no decision is taken without his approval."
Land rights activist Sanjay Basu Mallick, who worked with the senior Soren earlier, agreed. "The core of the JMM remains the same, with the same people calling the shots."
Hemant is the face of a new generation that entered the party in 2005. This was when Shibu first became chief minister — for 10 days. "The youngsters were attracted by power. Guruji is happy moving about in his old shawl and broken shoes, and is amused at the big cars these younsters use," said the JMM leader.
Hemant had been reticent to start with. The bespectacled, slight, mechanical engineer from Birla Institute of Technology worked with two engineering firms until he entered politics. He contested his first election in 2005, against Stephen Marandi, who had been winning the Dumka assembly seat for the JMM for 25 years, but who rebelled and ended up humiliating the scion. Hemant went on to become a Rajya Sabha member and had his revenge against Marandi in the 2009 elections. By then, his position in the family too had risen, with elder brother and heir-apparent Durga Soren having died in May 2009.
The "class of 2005" sees Hemant as its head boy. "They are not trained in the ideology of the party," the leader said. "They are from all social groups; there is no particular sympathy for tribals. They are closer to corporates than the rest of us are; we had to oppose them during the Jharkhand movement."
The JMM, famously contemptuous of the media, surprised many during the crisis by serving lunches and coffee to journalists waiting outside Shibu Soren's home as party leaders held long meetings. "Our constituency does not consume news through channels and newspapers, so we have always avoided the media. These youngsters believe in projecting an image," said another JMM leader.
Hemant first entered the national consciousness by delivering his father's letter of resignation from the Union cabinet to the prime minister in 2004. Over time, he has emerged the party's public face in the national press and as its damage controller, apologising on behalf of Shibu after the latter wrongly voted for the UPA in the April 2010 cut motion in Parliament. Later, after the BJP hit back by pulling the plug on the Soren government, Hemant was tasked with revealing that his party was willing to ally with anyone to form a government.
He has a key role to play in the ongoing negotiations with the Congress. "He has good equations with the Congress, having interacted with leaders in Delhi. They have no problem with him becoming the chief minister," the JMM leader said.
The leader contrasted the rank and file's equations with father and son. "Guruji trusts us. When we take a decision, we just have to inform him," he said. "With Hemant, there is always a 'why' question. This does not usually go down well with senior leaders. Earlier, anybody could walk up to meet Guruji, but now access to the top rung has been restricted."
Hemant is not as unpredictable as his father, and was different as a minister too. "Guruji dislikes files and does not care for the nitty-gritty of governance. With Hemant, on the other hand, files generally move fast, except when they have massive political implications," said the source who has watched both men work as ministers.
With the realisation that after his father comes a possible split, Hemant is said to be gathering his troops, with the hope that ascension to the top post will guarantee legitimacy in the eyes of his father's followers. The "batch of 2005" hopes to graduate with him.
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