Fighting Law With Politics

Amitabh Srivastava

Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren has not been a cricketer, but with no room left to escape the mounting legal challenges, he is now adopting the strategy of playing on the front foot. Same strategy that any ideal T20 batsman adopts to neutralize the unexpected swing of the ball. His strategy was once again on display on November 11, just a day after the Enforcement Directorate (ED) issued fresh summons for questioning in the alleged mining scam. He called a special session of the assembly to pass two such important bills which were expected to increase his popularity greatly.

One of these relates to raising the level of reservation in jobs in Jharkhand to 77 per cent, while the other Bill makes 1932 the crucial year for determining domicile status and eligibility to be marked as a local resident. It is clear from this move that his strategy to deal with legal challenges is to gain an edge by creating a situation of confusion on the basis of political move.

Soren did not turn up on the first summons to appear before the ED on November 3 for questioning, saying the central agency was trying to show strength. Challenging the ED to arrest him himself, Soren had said that there is no reason to be afraid of central agencies like ED or CBI. On November 11, he said, “We will wipe out the BJP even from jail.”

A senior JMM leader claims that the ruling JMM-Congress-RJD alliance has an alternative plan in case the ED arrests Soren or Governor Ramesh Bais recommends his disqualification as per the Election Commission’s reported advice . This JMM insider says, “We will immediately seek judicial relief. Alternatively, Soren may appoint his wife Kalpana, mother Rupi or father Shibu Soren as pro-active successors. Letters of support for the potential CM candidates have also been taken from all the MLAs of the alliance.

The ED wants to interrogate Soren to probe alleged money laundering in illegal mining cases in Jharkhand. Besides launching prosecution against Soren’s political aide Pankaj Mishra, arrested in July, the agency has informed a special court in Ranchi that the mining scam is estimated to be worth Rs 1,000 crore. The ED turned to illegal mining after arresting IAS officer Pooja Singhal in a money-laundering case related to alleged misuse of MGNREGA funds.

Amid apprehensions that the ED’s probe would reach the CM’s residence, Soren has moved swiftly on both the bills. They know that these Bills can be challenged in court even after they become law, unless the Center makes these laws beyond the purview of judicial scrutiny by including them in the Ninth Schedule. If the central government does not do this, then it will give Soren an opportunity to incite resentment among the people against the saffron party. With more than two years left in the term, Soren is in a quandary. There is a possibility of his disqualification and ED summons cannot be avoided forever. But, it is clear that Soren will not give up without giving a tough fight.

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