Ranchi: In a dramatic turn of events, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Wednesday in connection with a money laundering case related to an alleged land scam. The ED team grilled Soren for about seven hours at his official residence in Ranchi before taking him into custody. Soren’s arrest triggered a political crisis in the state, as the ruling coalition of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Congress, and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) scrambled to find a replacement for the chief minister.
According to sources, the ruling party MLAs unanimously chose Champai Soren, a senior cabinet minister and the vice president of JMM, as their new leader and submitted a letter of support to Governor CP Radhakrishnan. Champai Soren is likely to be sworn in as the new chief minister of Jharkhand soon. Champai Soren, who belongs to a Scheduled Tribe, is currently the minister of transport, scheduled tribes, and scheduled caste & backward class welfare in the JMM government. He is also known as the ‘Jharkhand Tiger’ for his role in the statehood movement.
JMM leader Rajesh Thakur confirmed that there was a consensus on Champai Soren’s name among the ruling alliance partners. He said that Champai Soren has the experience and the ability to lead the state in this difficult situation. Banna Gupta, another JMM leader, said that Champai Soren was elected as the leader of the legislative party by all the MLAs of the ruling coalition.
The ED’s action against Hemant Soren came after a long-standing probe into a land scam case, in which Soren and his associates were accused of acquiring land worth crores of rupees through fraudulent means. The ED had summoned Soren several times for questioning, but he had skipped the summons citing various reasons. On Monday, the ED had raided Soren’s residence in Delhi, but he was not present there. He had returned to Ranchi on Tuesday and agreed to cooperate with the ED.
Sources said that the ED was not satisfied with Soren’s answers during the interrogation and found discrepancies in his statements. Soren had reportedly answered only yes or no to most of the questions and had lost his temper at some point. The ED had asked him more than 40 questions related to the land scam case and his alleged involvement in illegal mining and coal trading activities. The ED also claimed to have documentary and digital evidence to link Soren with the proceeds of crime and benami properties.
Soren’s arrest sparked protests and tension in Ranchi and other parts of the state. The JMM supporters and workers staged demonstrations outside the ED office and the CM residence, demanding Soren’s release. They also raised slogans against the central government and the BJP, accusing them of political vendetta and conspiracy. The police had to impose Section 144, which prohibits the assembly of more than four people, in many areas of Ranchi to maintain law and order. Security was also beefed up outside the CM’s residence, the Raj Bhavan, and the BJP office.