A five-phase assembly election is currently underway in the BJP-ruled state of Jharkhand. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, the Congress, and the Rashtriya Janata Dal are fighting the assembly polls in alliance and have formed a mahagatbandhan, or grand alliance. Hemant Soren is the chief ministerial candidate of the alliance. The son of the former Jharkhand chief minister, Shibu Soren, Hemant is also the working president of the JMM, the principal opposition party in the 81-seat state assembly.
On the evening of 12 December, Amit Bhardwaj, an independent journalist, spoke to Hemant at his residence in Jharkhand’s Dumka district. They discussed the JMM’s stand on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens, the future of the country’s federal structure and the party’s response to the Adivasi community’s Pathalgadi movement demanding the right to autonomous governance. Hemant also discussed the JMM’s strategy in the on-going elections. “There is a deliberate attempt to create a sense of fear in Muslims,” he said. “But this country and its democracy are too big. The present government talks about Gandhi’s ideas and they behave like Hitler.”
Amit Bhardwaj: Muslims form 14 percent of the Jharkhand electorate. They seem angry and anxious over the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act. What is Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’s stand on the act? Will its passage polarise the minority vote against the BJP and in your favour?
Hemant Soren: The bill has been passed. Now it has taken shape of an act and will go to the respective states. It is up to the state governments how and whether it acts on the CAA. If we are elected to power, we will read, analyse and review the CAA to find out whether it is in benefit of the state or not. We were not in a position to do much earlier, but the act can certainly be challenged in the state.
AB: Do you think the National Register for Citizens is triggering fear among the minority voters in Jharkhand?
HS: There is a deliberate attempt to create a sense of fear in Muslims. But this country and its democracy are too big. The present government talks about Gandhi’s ideas and they behave like [Adolf] Hitler. This double standard cannot work for long. Right now, the northeast is burning. Food prices there have skyrocketed. The BJP has no regards for the Constitution and Indian democracy. Look at the trend, how they formed government in Maharashtra when the entire world was asleep. From day one, since 2014, they have backtracked from all developmental issues and are working on their own ideological agenda.
AB: Will your party, if elected to power, try to block the NRC in Jharkhand? The West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has already assured that she will block it in her state.
HS: As I said, the state governments must take decisions as per the interests of their electorate. The central government cannot impose laws on the states. The BJP is carrying out an organised attacked on the federal structure of the country. And a befitting answer to their attempts to weaken the democracy will come only through the democratic processes. The rate of their decline and being thrown out of power will be faster than their electoral growth.