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Shibu Soren: A tainted politician but still popular


Ranchi : With his flowing beard, he looks more like a Hindu godman. But newly anointed Jharkhand Chief Minister Shibu Soren is a politician to the core and hugely popular in the state despite being dogged by bribery allegations.

Popularly known as “Guruji”, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) chief took to politics after battling for years moneylenders who exploited members of his poor and impoverished tribal community.

Born Jan 11, 1944 in Nemra village of Hazaribagh district (now in Ramgarh district), Soren had to cut short his education after his father was allegedly killed by thugs in the employ of moneylenders.

That made the young man a lifelong foe of moneylenders. At the age of 18, he constituted the Santhal Navyuvak Sangh.

In the late 1960s, he set up an ashram at Tundi block in Dhanbad district. Despite being born in Chotanagpur region, the young revolutionary chose the Santhal region to take on the moneylenders.

The man became a terror for those who lent money to the needy at exorbitant rates of interest. He also took up the cause of the poor. Very soon, he was also opposing “outsiders” — the non-tribals.

In an outbreak of violence against “outsiders”, the tribals killed 11 people in Chirudih village of Jamatara district. Soren was made an accused in the case.

By then he was being revered as a “god” in the tribal society. The murder case forced Soren to go underground. But not for long.

In 1971, Soren became the general secretary of JMM. He was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1980. In 1986, he became the JMM president. He went on to represent the Dumka Lok Sabha seat in 1989, 1991 and 1996.

Soren’s image changed with the passage of time. As he came to be seen as another politician who made deals and took short cuts to power, he failed to get elected to the Lok Sabha in 1998 and 1999.

Soren’s popularity declined after he and three other Lok Sabha MPs were charged with taking bribes to vote in favour of the Congress government of P.V. Narasimha Rao in 1992. He was jailed in the bribery case.

In 2004, he became coal minister in the Manmohan Singh government. He was forced to quit the cabinet in July 2004 after a warrant pending against him in the Chirudih massacre surfaced.

Soren was again made a minister in the central government in October 2004.

He quit the cabinet in March 2005 after becoming the chief minister of Jharkhand. But he failed to prove his majority in the assembly, and had to step down.

Soren was again inducted in the central cabinet in 2006.

He had to leave the central cabinet again in October that year after he was convicted and awarded life imprisonment for the murder of his personal secretary Shashinath Jha.

He was acquitted in the murder case by Delhi High Court in 2007. He has also been let off in the Chirudih massacre case.

On Wednesday, as he again became chief minister for a second time, Soren declared that his aim was to promote the people’s welfare.

“I understand the problems of both the rural and urban people. I will try to take development to the last person in the state.”