Finding him guilty of conspiracy to kidnap and murder of a private secretary was allegedly demanded a cut in a large bribe transaction, a lower Delhi court convicted Federal Minister for Coal and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) supremo Shibu Soren. Shashi Narg Jha was Soren's private secretary and the crime was committed 12 years ago in 1994 in Ranchi, Jharkhand and his body buried in a nearby jungle. A bunch of JMM hoodlums were also convicted (and 2 acquited) and the court said that it will hear arguments on the nature of the punishment on November 30. Soren apparently did not anticipate the conviction as he came to the court in a private multi-utility vehicle and was sent to Tihar Jail in a police truck that refused to start. Later, complaining "uneasiness," he was taken to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences while the others went to jail-the rich and powerful in India often complain of health problems to be kept in a hospital instead of a jail.
Soren was apparently paid a large bribe to save a former Government (run by former Prime Minister Narashima Rao) from a no-confidence motion in January 1993 and Jha who was part of his democratic conspiracy wanted a bribe. Soren's henchmen, apparently on order, abducted him and took him to a village near Ranchi with intention to murder. Initially, the investigation was initiated by Delhi police on receiving a complaint from Jha's elder brother but was eventually transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in 1996 after Jha's mother complained to the Delhi High Court that the police was colluding with the criminals.
The CBI found that Jha blackmailed Soren into parting with Rs. 15 lakhs (USD 32,000) to keep this shady transaction under wraps and set up a business to make garment for the export market. When the business failed, Jha apparently tried to extort more money from Soren. Investigators said that just three days before he disappeared, Jha allegedly sodomized a JMM activist who was also a relative of Soren. It is not clear if it is the extortion or this blatant abrasive and depraved behavior that incensed Soren to order a hit. The CBI
exhumed a skeletal remains of Jha from a forest near Ranchi in 1998 following which Soren and 6 others were arrested.
Subsequently, political interference caused Soren to be released. Soren led a violent upraising against Bihar in 2000 to carve out the tribal state of Jharkhand was considered "God" by many tribals. The JMM joined the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and secured a Cabinet berth for Soren. However, after a Jharkhand court issues a non-bailable warrant against him in July 2004 for the murder of 20 people 20 years ago in Chirrudih, Soren first absconded evading arrest with impunity and refusing to quit the Federal Cabinet; later he relented and quit the Cabinet but was apparently given bail in November 2004. Soon, much to the chagrin of the nation, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh re-inducted him into the Cabinet. After Assembly elections in Jharkhand, in February 2005, he quit the Cabinet to take over as Chief Minister of Jharkhand in violation of Constitutional norms and completely suspicious circumstances only to quit 9 days later as he could not prove his majority in the Assembly. Again, to the bewilderment and anger of the nation, Singh admitted him back to the Cabinet. Singh was driven to keep his tenuous coalition together and this was the price he had to pay.
Following the conviction, Singh quickly secure the resignation of Soren but the big question is whether, as the proverbial phoenix, he would be able to engineer another comeback. Analysts think not. His support base in Jharkhand is seriously eroded by other tribal leaders in the state, his promotion of his son has been seriously opposed by other party members, and he has many enemies within the UPA including Laloo Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the communists. Also, the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which unsuccessfully protested his inclusion earlier two times will not give up so easily another time around. But starved for seats and dependent on its allies, the UPA may have to eat crow and accept him back if a higher court were to throw out this conviction unless his 5 members in the Parliament defect.
The Congress Party has also tried to be devious in other democracy crimes. The Grand Old Party of India tried to can embezzlement cases against potential allies (Mayawathi) in Uttar Pradesh was given a serious dressing down by the Supreme Court. Hence, the BJP's decision to hold Singh's feet to the fire and embarrass him into compliance with some democratic norms is understandable. General Secretary Arun Jaitley said that Singh should be held accountable for improper use of prime ministerial privilege to get "tainted ministers" like Soren back into the Cabinet and also bemoaned "criminalization of the Cabinet." Jaitley is right as other Cabinet members have charges of murder, rape, embezzlement, and extortion against them.
However, instead of trying to embarrass Singh and the UPA, the BJP may serve the country better if it should ask for:
dilution of a party where its leaders are convicted criminals
life-time bar on individuals who have a conviction record (however long and for whatever crime)
modifications to election laws that will bar those charged by a court (at an appropriate level) from contesting in elections