‘Missing’ Hemant Soren shows up in Ranchi

Jharkhand Chief Minister holds talks with alliance partners; ED officials tow away a vehicle and impound about ₹36 lakh in cash from his Delhi residence; in Bihar, RJD leader and former Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav was questioned by the ED at its Patna office for several hours

January 30, 2024 02:23 pm | Updated 11:50 pm IST

Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, along with legislators of the ruling alliance parties, paid homage to Mahatma Gandhi at Bapu Vatika in Ranchi on January 30, 2024. Photo: Special Arrangement

Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, along with legislators of the ruling alliance parties, paid homage to Mahatma Gandhi at Bapu Vatika in Ranchi on January 30, 2024. Photo: Special Arrangement

Hours after the BJP accused Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren of going “missing” in Delhi since Enforcement Directorate officials visited his residence there on January 29, he surfaced in Ranchi and held several rounds of meetings with leaders from his ruling coalition on January 30.

After their visit to his Delhi residence, ED officials towed away a vehicle purportedly used by Mr. Soren and also reportedly impounded about ₹36 lakh in cash. It is not yet confirmed whether the agency has seized or attached those assets under any provision of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.

Also read | Waiting for CM's response: Jharkhand Guv

Mr. Soren is now likely to appear before the ED at his Ranchi residence on the afternoon of January 31 to record his statement in an alleged land scam case. He had been questioned by the ED for seven hours on January 20 after evading ten previous summons from the agency.

Yadavs questioned

Across the State border in Bihar, Rashtriya Janata Dal leader and former Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav was questioned by the ED at its Patna office for several hours in a land-for-jobs case on Tuesday. This comes just a day after his father and RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav faced ten hours of ED questioning in the same case. A crowd of RJD supporters and leaders — including Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav’s elder daughter Misa Bharti, who has also been accused of being involved in the case along with her mother Rabri Devi and sister Hema Yadav — camped outside the ED’s office waiting for the junior Mr. Yadav to come out.

Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren holds meeting with cabinet colleagues | Video Credit: Amarnath Tewary

“This is not the office of the ED, but of the BJP. When elections come, Opposition party leaders get summons from them,” said RJD leader and Rajya Sabha member Manoj Jha, who was present. The ED has alleged that land was taken in the name of Mr. Yadav’s family members in return for railway jobs while he was Railway Minister between 2004 and 2009.

BJP’s ‘missing’ poster

The ED had also asked the Jharkhand CM to appear for further questioning, in Delhi or Ranchi, on January 29 or 31. When an ED team visited Mr. Soren’s residence in Delhi’s Shanti Niketan area on Monday, the Jharkhand CM did not turn up, prompting the Jharkhand BJP to post a “missing” poster on social media. After 32 hours out of the public eye, however, Mr. Soren emerged from his residence in Ranchi on Tuesday to offer homage to Mahatma Gandhi on his death anniversary. “We will not let the teachings of Bapu be suppressed,” the smiling CM told waiting journalists.

Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren meeting with ruling alliance party leaders at his residence on January 30, 2024. Photo: Special Arrangement

Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren meeting with ruling alliance party leaders at his residence on January 30, 2024. Photo: Special Arrangement

Security was beefed up at his Ranchi residence where he held meetings with his alliance partners. Leaders of the Congress, RJD, and the Nationalist Congress Party, all members of the ruling coalition also held a meeting at the State Circuit House. Later in the evening, legislators from Mr. Soren’s Jharkhand Mukti Morcha also met at his residence.

JMM protests

With JMM workers protesting against Mr. Soren’s summons by the ED, Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, prohibiting public assembly, was imposed near the CM’s residence, as well as at the Raj Bhavan and the ED’s Ranchi office. Declaring that “no one is above the law”, Jharkhand Governor C.P. Radhakrishnan summoned the Director General of Police to the Raj Bhavan on Tuesday to discuss the law-and-order situation in the State.

Also Read | Money laundering case: ED seizes ₹36 lakh, SUV from Hemant Soren’s Delhi house

JMM national general secretary Supriyo Bhattacharya, however, told journalists that “a Chief Minister is not an individual but an institution”. Claiming that Mr. Soren had gone to Delhi “for a personal work”, Mr. Bhattacharya wondered, “How could the ED reach Mr. Soren’s residence even before the given time?” He said a criminal case would be lodged against State BJP leader Babulal Marandi for propagating false information about Mr. Soren’s whereabouts. Mr. Marandi responded: “I want that they should file a case against me.”

Alleged land scam

The ED has arrested 14 people in the case so far. The agency is investigating charges that a 7.16 acre parcel of land near Ranchi was acquired through the proceeds of crime involving the illegal sale of land belonging to the defence forces. Mr. Soren, however, has dismissed the allegations as “politically motivated”, saying that the details of his assets are public.

Also Read | BJP claims embattled Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren plans to resign and anoint his wife as successor

The CM’s wife, Kalpana Soren, was present at the meeting of coalition leaders, fuelling rumours that, in case of Mr. Soren’s imminent arrest, she could be selected to replace him, despite the fact that she is not even an MLA. JMM MLA Sarfaraj Ahmed recently resigned from his Gandey seat, sparking speculation that Ms. Soren could contest a bypoll from the safe seat in order to take over as CM. Mr. Soren, however, recently asserted: “I was, I am, and I will be around.”

(With inputs from Devesh Pandey in New Delhi)

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