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Soren still 'Guruji' for tribal people

He may have been sentenced to life. But to most of Jharkhand's tribal people, Shibu Soren remains "guruji".

india Updated: Dec 06, 2006 18:27 IST

He may have been sentenced to life for murder. But to most of Jharkhand's tribal people, Shibu Soren remains the revered "guruji", with his supporters saying he was not capable of killing even a bird.

"The court might have found him guilty but he is still our Guruji," asserted Nandlal Soren, an associate of Soren, reflecting a mindset widely prevalent in a state where tribals call the shots.

"His contribution (to the formation of Jharkhand) cannot be forgotten. Moneylenders and feudal class earlier treated us harshly. It was Guruji who freed us from the their clutches," added Nandlal Soren.

As the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) leader began serving his life imprisonment pending appeals in higher courts, a sense of shock and disbelief was widespread all over the state that a man who was a powerful cabinet minister until some 10 days ago had been sentenced to undergo life imprisonment.

A court in New Delhi on Tuesday found Soren and four others guilty of murdering his former private secretary in 1994.

Baleshwar Hembrum, another tribal supporter of the JMM chief, added: "It is very difficult to digest that Guruji can kill any one. He loves birds, insects and human beings. We will all march to jail and pull him out of the prison."

The sympathy for Shibu Soren is understandable to those who know the man.

Shibu Soren began his life's struggle from Tundi block of Dhanbad. He set up an ashram there before shifting to Dumka, where tribals led a miserable life due to the repressive attitude of moneylenders and landlords.

Under his leadership, many moneylenders and landlords were punished and driven away from Dumka and other parts of Santhal Pargana, the vast tribal belt in Jharkhand.

"Soren gave a slogan for us. He was the voice of tribals outside the state," said Dumka Soren, a resident of Dumka district.

"Tribal people were given many facilities as he raised their living condition," the man added. "The CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) has been under pressure from the central government to implicate Guruji in the murder case."

Shibu Soren first entered the Lok Sabha in 1980 from Dumka. He had a long innings before he hit the headlines in 1993 for allegedly taking bribes along with three other JMM MPs for standing by the government of PV Narasimha Rao during a 1993 parliament voting.

Shibu Soren always wanted to be the chief minister of Jharkhand, which was formed in 2000. His dream was fulfilled but for a short period in March 2005 when he formed a government though he did not enjoy majority support in the assembly.

Champai Soren, another Shibu Soren supporter, argued that rival politicians jealous of the JMM leader's popularity had succeeded in locking him up in jail from where it is difficult to see the man coming out quickly.

"Others envy the popularity of Guruji. But his image will not be affected whether he is given life imprisonment or death sentence. He is our leader and he will remain our leader," Champai Soren added.

Even Cardinal Telesphore P Toppo termed the life sentence unfortunate and as a big loss to the tribal community.