NEW DELHI, Jan 31: In a seismic but long-brewing development in Jharkhand politics, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren was taken into custody by the Enforcement Directorate on Wednesday evening soon after he resigned from the post.
Top ED officials said Mr Soren refused to sign his arrest memo until he submitted his resignation to Jharkhand Governor CP Radhakrishnan. They said the agency’s officials then took the chief minister to the Raj Bhavan to submit his resignation. Later in the evening, Mr Soren was formally arrested after being taken to the ED office.
Transport minister Champai Soren, one of the veteran leaders of the ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), is all set to step into his shoes. Hemant Soren was taken into custody in connection with an alleged land scam, minutes after meeting the governor and handing in his resignation.
Sources said he had discussed the matter with the officials, declaring that he would sign the arrest memo only after stepping down. The ED Officials then took him to meet the Governor. A Chief Minister can be arrested under the anti-money laundering rules if he evades summons thrice.
Mr Soren, after evading the Enforcement Directorate over the weekend, had agreed to be questioned by the Central agency on Wednesday afternoon. His statement was recorded during the questioning.
Mr Soren, who had evaded seven summons for questioning in an alleged money laundering case linked to the ₹ 600 crore land scam, was anticipating arrest for a while. On Tuesday, he held a meeting with MLAs of the ruling alliance where the question of his successor was discussed. Initially, it was expected to be his wife, Kalpana Soren. But given the proximity of the state elections — due in November — the party had to drop the idea.
By-elections cannot be held in the last year of any state assembly’s term and so, Kalpana Soren could not have been elected an MLA even if she was named the Chief Minister.
The land scam involves a “huge racket” to change of ownership of government land and selling it to builders, the agency has alleged. So far, 14 people have been arrested in the case, including 2011-batch IAS officer Chhavi Ranjan who served as the director of the state Social Welfare Department and deputy commissioner of Ranchi.
Mr Soren has claimed that he was the target of a huge conspiracy. “The BJP conspiracy against him has succeeded for a while. But our government has majority and will continue,” said state minster Mithilesh Thakur.
The person chosen to take over as chief minister has taken many by surprise. Champai Soren has the support of over 41 MLAs; also, 41 is the majority mark in the 80-member assembly.
Champai Soren is a senior leader who has been with the JMM with Hemant Soren’s father Shibu Soren since the party started. Champai Soren is currently cabinet minister of transport, and Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes welfare in the Hemant Soren government.
The new Chief Minister is the eldest son of Simal Soren, a farmer from Saraikela-Kharsawan district. “We are ready for what may come… The BJP is abusing central agencies to destabilise a democratically elected government but we will not allow them to succeed in their mission,” Champai Soren had said on Tuesday after the legislature party meeting.