UNION COAL Minister Shibu Soren on Tuesday resigned from office after a Delhi court found him guilty of conspiracy in the abduction and murder of his former private secretary Shashi Nath Jha in 1994.
The court verdict — convicting a sitting minister of murder for the first time — triggered off a series of political developments. Opposition parties led by the BJP redrew their strategies to take on the government in Parliament and outside, while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh tried to minimise the damage by asking Soren, chief of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), an alliance partner of the UPA, to step down from office.
In the evening, Sanjaya Baru, the PM's media adviser, confirmed that Singh had accepted Soren's resignation. It is exactly a year since Soren, whose party has five members in the Lok Sabha, was re-inducted in the cabinet. In 2004, Soren had to resign after a Jharkhand court issued a non-bailable warrant against him in connection with another murder case.
In the present case, the court will pronounce sentence on Soren and four others on November 30. The CBI has taken all five in custody.
Soren's conviction has given the NDA a potent political issue to exploit, prompting the BJP to even consider postponing L.K. Advani's adjournment motion on the internal security scenario to another day. Instead, on Wednesday, the party will target the PM who, it alleged, "misused'' his power to choose his cabinet by inducting "criminal elements".
"The PM must explain to Parliament why he misused his power and inducted Soren," said BJP's Arun Jaitley. Party spokesman V.K. Malhotra said: "It is an established practice that any charge-sheeted person should not be in the government. But this has not happened in the UPA government."
The opposition also plans to raise the issue of “tainted ministers” in the campaign for the forthcoming assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttaranchal. In Jharkhand, it would target the JMM-backed Madhu Koda ministry. Soren heads the Steering panel in the state.
The Left parties have, meanwhile, said it would be untenable for Soren to continue as a minister though he the right to appeal.
Congress leaders said there was no question of backing Soren. “All consequential steps will be taken by the government,” said Parliamentary Affairs Minister P.R. Dasmunsi. The latest setback to the government comes at a time when it is grappling with issues like the farmer suicides and agrarian distress which have threatened to mar its image.