He is the man behind the making of the Sorens, Jharkhand’s most powerful political family.
In 1973-74, when a young and impoverished Sibu Soren launched his much-touted tribal uprising against the oppressive moneylenders in the state’s Santhal Pargana division, this wealthy landlord from Bokaro— Thakur Saryu Prasad Singh— stood by him through thick and thin, providing social, emotional and, above all, financial support.
Singh, 79, is among the few people alive who have seen Soren’s transition from a hard-up social reformer to a powerful and wealthy politician from the beginning. Four decades later, this Man Friday of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) chief seems to have lost the love for him “as the latter has no time for his old friends”.
Singh, however, says he has greater affection and regard for Sibu’s son, chief minister Hemant Soren. With assembly elections on in the state, he says he wants Hemant to get a full five-year term to showcase his potential as the last 14 months were too short a period for him to deliver.
“Uss samay Sibu Soren ke pas kuchh nahi tha, aaj sab kuchh hai (Earlier Sibu Soren had nothing, today he has everything),” said Singh, reminiscing how Sibu did not have suitable clothes to wear and food to eat when he embarked on the big mission to drive away the moneylenders exploiting the tribespeople.
“As his true friend, I took care of all his needs and ensured he didn’t face any difficulties in carrying forward his revolution.”
As Sibu’s stature grew and he went on to become an MLA, MP and a chief minister, the gap between the two friends widened. “He kept busy and hardly had time to meet his friends,” said the landlord, whose fortunes dwindled as Sibu’s rose with the passage of time.
Singh said that in the late 1970s, the upcoming Bokaro Steel Plant, a unit of SAIL, began expanding and acquired more than 100 acres of his land apart from 10 big ponds. “I am yet to get compensation for the acquired land,” he said, adding, even his “influential friend” couldn’t bail him out of the crisis till date.
But it was in 2003 that the Soren family, particularly the young Hemant Soren, paid back Singh’s favours to them and the septuagenarian wholeheartedly acknowledges it. Singh says he vividly remembers that he suffered a massive heart attack on May 3.
“The entire family had rushed to my rescue; they airlifted me to Delhi’s Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital and brought me back home completely cured,” said Singh.
Eight people, including Hemant, donated blood, he said, appreciating the chief minister’s humanitarian approach. “He is a kind-hearted man and has lots to offer to the people of this state if re-elected to power,” Singh said.
The widening differences notwithstanding, Singh does meet Sibu whenever he visits Ranchi. “Although our conditions have changed and I am a pauper compared to him, we haven’t stopped meeting. Four decades back, I was in the role of Lord Krishna and he was Sudama. It’s the opposite now,” Singh said, taking in the sun near his house on the outskirts of Bokaro city.