Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren is facing imminent arrest by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for his involvement in a land scam in Ranchi.
Realising this, Soren has initiated steps to make his wife, Kalpana, the CM in his place. To prepare for this, Soren got his party legislator, Sarfaraz Ahmed, to resign from his Gandey Assembly seat on Sunday (31 December).
Assembly Speaker Rabindranath Mahto promptly accepted the resignation. Tellingly, Mahto’s acceptance of Ahmed’s surprise and sudden resignation came about after Soren met the Speaker on Sunday.
According to senior leaders of the ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), the party is most likely to field Hemant’s wife Kalpana from Gandey in the byelections which are expected a couple of months from now.
Hemant Soren has ignored the seventh notice issued by the ED to him under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) to record his statement in the land scam.
The ED had sent the Chief Minister a notice last week asking him to state a time and place of his convenience for the agency to record his statement with regard to the scam. The ED had given him time till Sunday (December 31) to reply to the notice.
The ED letter came after he ignored six earlier summons to appear for questioning before the agency on 14 and 24 August, 9 and 23 September, 4 October and 12 December.
Terming the summons as “politically motivated”, Soren had approached the Jharkhand High Court as well as the Supreme Court to quash the ED notices. But both the Supreme Court and the High Court turned down his pleas.
After he ignored the ED’s notice asking him to indicate a choice of time and place for questioning, Soren knows that it is only a matter of time before the agency takes punitive action against him.
Top ED officers told Swarajya that the agency is consulting its lawyers before taking a final decision on the course of action against Soren.
But there is little doubt that Soren will ultimately be taken into custody, observers said. What the ED is mulling is whether to get a judicial greenlight for the arrest. But even without prior judicial sanction, the ED has enough grounds to arrest Soren, said the ED officers.
Once that happens, Kalpana Soren will be sworn in as the CM. She will then contest the byelections to the vacant Gandey seat to fulfil the legal requirement: a person made a CM or a minister has to contest and win an assembly seat within six months of the nomination to the post.
Kalpana hails from Tentala village in Rairangpur subdivision of Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district.
JMM leaders said there is little chance of any leader within the party objecting to Kalapana Soren being made her husband’s replacement as the CM.
“This move (to replace Hemant Soren with his wife if the former is arrested) has the blessings of Guruji (Shibu Soren, the JMM patriarch and Hemant’s father) and no one will contest it,” a senior JMM leader who is also a cabinet minister told Swarajya from state capital Ranchi.
Sarfaraz Ahmed (the MLA from Gandey who resigned) is said to have promised ‘adequate rewards’ for his ‘sacrifice’.
Ahmed, who said he put in his papers as an MLA for “personal reasons”, is expected to put his considerable weight behind Kalpana Soren’s expected election bid from his constituency.
Ahmed, a three-time MLA from the same seat (he won Gandey in 1980, 2009 as a Congress candidate and 2019 on a JMM ticket), has reportedly been promised chairmanship of a plum state PSU and some other ‘benefits’.
JMM leaders also told Swarajya that Hemant Soren’s defiance of the ED summonses has been driven by his design to force the ED to arrest him. His arrest by the central agency, feels Hemant Soren, will make him a ‘martyr’.
However, a BJP Lok Sabha MP from Godda (Jharkhand) said that the bid will be “totally unsuccessful”.
“People are not fools, everyone knows that Hemant Soren is neck-deep in corruption and has betrayed the interests of the tribals and people of Jharkhand. The new year will bring a lot of agony to the Soren family and the JMM,” he told Swarajya.
ED officers confirmed to Swarajya that the evidence against Soren in the land scam case is very strong and will easily pass judicial scrutiny.
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