News APP

NewsApp (Free)

Read news as it happens
Download NewsApp

Available on  gplay  » News » Champai Soren: Puppet Or Puppeteer?

Champai Soren: Puppet Or Puppeteer?

By Aditi Phadnis
February 19, 2024 09:11 IST
Get Rediff News in your Inbox:

Pressure from the Soren clan is only one of the challenges Champai Soren faces as he readies himself to helm the predominantly tribal state.

IMAGE: Jharkhand Chief Minister Champai Soren at the distribution of appointment letters to beneficiaries under the Abua Housing Scheme at Kolhan division in West Singhbhum, February 9, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

"In Jharkhand, the motif is jungles, hills, forests, and waterfalls. Leaders are described in terms of their relationship with these forces.

"If Champai Soren is known as the Tiger of Kolhan, it is a tribute to his past as an activist of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, who fought long and hard for statehood.

"When he was underground, no one was ever sure where he would emerge from: The forest or from behind a waterfall. Hence the name: The Tiger of Kolhan," senior Congress leader Subodh Kant Sahai says on the phone from Ranchi as the new chief minister of Jharkhand corralled his MLAs and took off to Hyderabad, where they stayed until February 5, the day of the floor test in the assembly.

Kolhan is the region to which he belongs.


Pratul Shahdeo, spokesman for the Bharatiya Janata Party in the state, is less charitable.

"He's nothing more than a puppet on a string," says Shahdeo, speaking to Business Standard.

"Hemant Soren was like a character out of the plot of the Bill Clinton-James Patterson thriller, The President Is Missing. For 40 hours, he was missing, and no one knew where he was.

"Champai will just do whatever the Soren family asks him to do -- basically just a puppet."

Pressure from the Soren clan is only one of the challenges Champai Soren (67) faces as he readies himself to helm the predominantly tribal state.

In the 81-member Jharkhand assembly, the JMM has 29 MLAs, and its ally, the Congress, has 17.

The other alliance partners, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), have one MLA each.

Late last year, cash worth more than Rs 200 crore (Rs 2 billion) was recovered from several locations linked to Congress Rajya Sabha MP from the state, Dhiraj Prasad Sahu.

If that wasn't reputational damage enough, the coalition CM Hemant Soren is now in prison on money laundering and corruption charges.

Every other day, there are reports of one or more arrests. Bureaucrats are not exempt.

"From gold to uranium, Jharkhand is one of India's wealthiest states when it comes to minerals. When the state regulates this via licences, obviously there will be corruption," says Sahai.

But he adds that the BJP's 'selective' use of investigative agencies against Opposition leaders is mainly responsible for the perception of corruption.

IMAGE: Champai Soren, centre, with Jharkhand Mukti Morcha supremo Sibhu Soren, left, and state Minister Basant Soren, Sibhu Soren's youngest son, in Ranchi, February 16, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

However, there are so far no charges of corruption against Champai. He is the first Soren CM who is not from the family.

His political career began when he was elected as an Independent MLA in a by-election from the Saraikela seat in 1991, nine years before Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar.

He joined the JMM, enthused by Shibu Soren, known as Guruji, and Raghunath Murmu, the man known to have created the Santhali script known as Ol Chiki (also known as Ol Chemet).

The two men taught Champai what it is to be a tribal -- to take pride in tribal legacies and traditions.

Even today, JMM members say that when Champai is faced with a dilemma, he spends hours before tribal deities, or Sarna.

Ironically, he was defeated from the constituency in the Bihar assembly polls in early 2000 and couldn't be a member of the first assembly of Jharkhand, which was created as a separate state later that year in November.

But after that, he has been an MLA from Saraikela since 2005, including being a minister in the BJP government from September 11, 2010, to January 18, 2013.

He is currently serving his sixth term as Saraikela MLA. He became minister of the food supply and transport departments in the Hemant Soren cabinet from July 13, 2013, to December 28, 2014.

In 2019, he was made minister of transport, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and backward class welfare in the state.

His name was floated as CM many times within the party: in 2002, 2006, and 2010.

This time too, if Hemant Soren's family -- his sister-in-law Sita and others -- had not revolted against a proposal to make Hemant's wife Kalpana CM while he was in prison, Champai would have missed his chance again.

IMAGE: Champai Soren at the 52nd foundation day of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha in Dhanbad, February 04, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

The rebellion served him well.

He is a simple man -- educated till Class 10 -- with seven children and a bank debt of Rs 78 lakh. But "he retains the enthusiasm and idealism of an activist," says Sahai, who used to deal with Champai while he was Union minister of state for home.

Jharkhand, as a state, faces many developmental challenges.

But Champai will have the additional responsibility of contesting the Uniform Civil Code, which the BJP government will enforce if it returns to power after the 2024 general elections, to protect the tribal identity.

Although the proposal that tribals be kept out of the UCC has been floated, the resistance to a UCC among them is extensive.

If Hemant is cleared of the charges against him, he will expect Champai to vacate the seat. That will be the start of another saga.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

Get Rediff News in your Inbox:
Aditi Phadnis
Source: source
India Votes 2024

India Votes 2024