Shibu Soren's politics fails him to be Jharkhand's icon

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He is called "Guruji" in Jharkhand but his conduct in the dozen years since the state's formation is no lesson for the citizens. Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader Shibu Soren's mercurial character is such that he hardly evokes trust and mainly because of his frequent U-turns, the sexagenarian has failed to hold sway over the mineral-rich state's politics.

The greed of politicians has forced at four changes of chief minister and Soren has not been able secure a statesman like place and be a guide. Born in Nemra village of Hazaribagh district of undivided Bihar, he started his political career in the early 1970s and rose to become a tribal leader.

Shibu Soren

Soren, who keeps himself busy rearing cows, buffaloes and cultivating land at his official residence in Ranchi and Bokaro farm house, destabilised the BJP-led government on Jan 8, 2013. The JMM submitted a letter to Governor Syed Ahmed, formally withdrawing support to the 28-month-old Arjun Munda government and thereby pushing it to a minority.

The BJP, JMM, AJSU and JD(U) had formed the government on Sept 11, 2010, but ties between BJP and JMM came under strain over the rotational leadership issue. While JMM had insisted that there was a power sharing formula in which the two parties would rule for 28 months each, BJP had bluntly rejected it leading to the JMM's decision to withdraw support.

If the BJP had transferred the power to the JMM, Shibu Soren could have seen his son Hemant become chief minister. Soren has three sons Durga, Hemant, Basant and a daughter Anjali. In case BJP had accepted his demand, the chief ministership would have come back to Soren's family for the first time after 2005 when he held the post for nine days. Hemant is deputy chief minister in Munda government.

The tribal leader's political baptism began on a fiery note in 1975 when Soren was allegedly part of a mob that attacked the Muslim-dominated Chirudih village in Jamtara district as part of a campaign to drive away "outsiders". Ten people including nine Muslims were killed in the attack. Along with sixty eight others, he was charged with murder.

He lost his first Lok Sabha election in 1977 and managed to enter the LS three years later. He was subsequently elected to the Lok Sabha in 1989, 1991 and 1996 as well. In 2002, he was elected to the Rajya Sabha with the help of the BJP. He won the Dumka Lok Sabha seat in a by-election the same year and resigned his Rajya Sabha seat. He was re-elected in 2004.

Soren has been very vocal on the coal block scam that surfaced last year even though he headed the coal ministry in 2004. However, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh demanded his resignation following an arrest warrant in his name in the Chirudih case. After the warrant was issued, he initially went underground. He resigned on 24 Jul, 2004. He was able to secure bail after spending over a month in judicial custody; released on bail in Sept 8, he was re-inducted into the Union Cabinet and given back the coal ministry on 27 Nov, 2004. He was back in power as part of a deal for a Congress-JMM alliance before assembly elections in Jharkhand in Feb/Mar 2005. This alliance is hoping to again form the government in Jharkhand in 2013.

Shibu Soren's family has notoriety and coincidence that is difficult to explain. He and his daughter-in-law were named in the alleged murder of their aides.

JMM legislator Sita Soren, the daughter-in-law of Shibu Soren, has been accused of abducting Vikas Pandey, her former private assistant and a prosecution witness in horse trading case at the time of Rajya Sabha biennial election earlier this year. The CBI is investigating the case on the directive of Jharkhand high court and Vikas is one of the prosecution's key witnesses. The case was lodged after the Income Tax department seized around Rs 2.15 crore from a private vehicle belonging to an aide of a contestants on the day of the election on Mar 30.

On the other hand, Shibu Soren was convicted and awarded life imprisonment by a court in New Delhi in Oct 2006 in the case relating to the 1994 murder of Soren's personal secretary Shashinath Jha. However, in 2008, the Delhi High Court acquitted Soren in the Jha murder case.

Throughout his political career, Soren had a rub with the law. A fast track court in Giridih district has acquitted Soren in the double murder case for lack of evidence. It relates to the Apr 1974 murder of two people following a dispute over the killing of two goats. Soren was accused of inciting a mob to kill Chundi Singh and Khirodhar Singh, who allegedly stole two goats, in Kodko village of Giridih.

There were 10 accused in the case. The chargesheet against the accused, including Soren, was filed in 1978. Eight accused were acquitted in 1986 and one died during trial. In 2007, he was acquitted in the Chirudih case.

Shibu Soren's personality is so quixotic that he had told the government to recall two senior Jharkhand officials, who had gone to London for the Olympics, in the face of drought-like situation in some parts of the state.

But he does not find it unnecessary to destabilise the government now and waste time and money on the formation of a new government.

The state which has nearly 70 percent of population under the poverty line had been rocked by land scam. One of the accused is Shibu Soren himself. Others facing the allegations include his son Hemant, Land and Revenue Minister Mathura Mahto, Congress president Pradeep Balmuchu and Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) legislator Neel Kanth Singh Munda.

All of them have been accused of violating the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act, which says that only tribal people belonging to the same circle and police station can buy land of tribal people. The allegation is that these leaders bought land outside their circle and police station jurisdiction.

These kind of charges do not prevent his daughter-in-law Sita from sitting on dharna in support of anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare, in Feb 2012.

For Shibu Soren and his ilk, there is lot at stake in Jharkhand and they are desperate to retain power. Jharkhand is endowed with vast natural resources specially the vast variety of minerals ranging from Iron ore, coal (no 1 in nation), copper ore (no. 1 in nation), mica, bauxite, fire clay, graphite and uranium. Jharkhand is the leading producer of mineral wealth in the country. The total value of mineral production is amounted to over Rs 3000 crore.

One only wishes that Soren does not remain sore with everybody else and forget the fact that Jharkhand was formed under him and he has to play a bigger role. The farmer's son needs to work on the development agenda and be a real Guruji of Jharkhand.

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