On November 27, 2004, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) leader Shibu Soren was inside Rashtrapati Bhavan, facing the President of India, and being sworn in as the UPA government’s Union Minister of Coal. Exactly two years and a day later, he was elbowed into quitting his Cabinet post by the same government after a Delhi court convicted him of being involved in the 1994 abduction and murder of his private secretary. On Tuesday, Mr Soren became the first Cabinet Minister to be sentenced to life imprisonment. Remarkably, he still remains a representative of the people in the Lok Sabha and could remain an MP if he appeals the court’s verdict within three months.
The Shibu Soren saga, even as it unfolds, goes a long way in explaining why, as a nation, we are so cynical about criminals in high places getting their just deserts in our politico-judicial system. The fact is Mr Soren has been courted by political parties because of his clout and despite his tainted record. ‘Guruji’, as the JMM leader is known among his supporters, understands the Machiavellian principle of power operational in this country, which puts political value and necessity miles above moral or legal propriety. How else can one explain the fact that after he first resigned as Union Minister on July 24, 2004 — following an arrest warrant issued in his name in a 1975 case involving the murder of 11 people in Chirrudih in the then undivided Bihar — it took only four months for the same government to reinduct him? Clearly, ‘tainted’ politicians, Mr Soren included, found no deterrent in the system until the law, and increasingly the media, stepped in.
It would be naive of us to not believe that necessity is the mother of a lot of bad political judgment in this country. But it would be doubly naive of us to deny the fact that criminals take advantage of this cynicism to make their positions secure in the political firmament. It was Mr Soren’s reinduction in November 2004 as Cabinet Minister that made him state with a grin on his face that his “stand of not being tainted” had been vindicated. The JMM and Mr Soren’s supporters will now, no doubt, go to great pains and out on the streets, to proclaim their ‘Guruji’s’ innocence, claiming that Mr Soren is a mere victim of a political witch-hunt. The law is, thankfully, unmoved by this kind of display. One hopes that the political leadership across parties is now deterred from being moved by such criminal shenanigans that use brutal and immoral political necessity as a perennial and shameful excuse.