Turmoil in Jharkhand: On Jharkhand Chief Minister’s troubles

Chief Minister Hemant Soren’s troubles are legal and political in almost equal measure 

January 08, 2024 12:15 am | Updated 12:16 am IST

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) is keeping Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren on his toes as it pursues allegations against him and his close associates. The charges are related to tribal land transfers and illegal mining. Seven summons past, Mr. Soren has not appeared before the ED. He apparently fears his arrest ahead of the Lok Sabha elections and is preparing the ground for turning these corruption allegations into a political battle. The Chief Minister has been touring the State and mobilising people around his government’s welfare measures with the slogan, ‘Aapki Yojana Aapki Sarkar Aapke Dwar, i.e., Your scheme, your government, at your doorstep’. His attempts at getting some judicial reprieve have had very limited success. After the ED’s first summons in August, Mr. Soren had approached the Supreme Court of India questioning its legality. The Court directed him to the Jharkhand High Court which rejected his petition on October 13, allowing the ED to continue with its investigations. This case is related to the purchase and sale of tribal land between 2020 and 2022, allegedly in violation of laws that restrict such transactions. In a mining lease allotment case, he appeared before the ED office in Ranchi in November 2022. He was facing allegations of allocating mining leases for himself, his wife and sister-in-law while holding the Mines Department portfolio. The High Court recently rejected a PIL that sought a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry into this case.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is counting on the possible arrest of Mr. Soren and keeping up the political heat. ED investigations frequently turn out to be very convenient for the BJP. The party has launched a campaign to preempt the possibility of Mr. Soren’s wife, Kalpana Soren, replacing him as Chief Minister in the event of his arrest. Ms. Soren belongs to a tribal community in Odisha, and she may not be eligible to contest a seat reserved for Scheduled Tribes in Jharkhand. The abrupt resignation of Sarfaraz Ahmad, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) MLA from Gandey, a general seat, on January 1, 2024 has given some credence to the speculation that the Sorens may be preparing for a transition in the face of mounting legal troubles. The BJP has asked the Governor not to allow anyone who is not an MLA to take oath as Chief Minister. Meanwhile, a meeting of JMM, Congress and Rashtriya Janata Dal legislators on January 3 at Mr. Soren’s official residence unanimously called for his continuation in office regardless of the way the case turns. Corruption is a serious challenge to democracy, but selective investigation against political opponents is no less so.

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