Hemant Soren approaches Supreme Court against arrest by ED, hearing tomorrow

Former Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren has approached the Supreme Court against his arrest by ED in an alleged money laundering case. Soren had resigned on Wednesday before his arrest

Former Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren (file photo)
Former Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren (file photo)

A.J. Prabal

The Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to hear the petition of former Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren challenging his arrest by the Enforcement Directorate late on Wednesday evening. Before his arrest, Soren hurriedly recorded and released a five-minute video message, called on the Governor to tender his resignation and also submitted a list of 43 MLAs in the 81-member House in support of Champai Soren, who he submitted, was the new leader of the legislature party of the ruling JMM-Congress-RJD coalition.

The Chief Justice of India agreed to list Soren’s petition challenging his arrest on Friday for hearing. His lawyers Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi informed the apex court that Soren would withdraw his petition from the Jharkhand High Court on similar grounds.

Objecting to Soren’s arrest, the lawyers pointed out that the Supreme Court had last year in October ruled that ED had to inform the grounds of arrest in writing and the court needed to satisfy itself that there was a need for the arrest. "This Court has to set out the contours of Section 19 PMLA...how can a man be arrested like this...it affects the polity of the country," Sibal said in the Supreme Court on Thursday.

In the video message released on Wednesday before going to the Raj Bhavan, Soren denied he had anything to do with the alleged eight-acre plot that ED accused him of acquiring fraudulently. It was a conspiracy against his government and the ED team interrogated him during the day and whiled away their time so that he could not approach the court, he said. His arrest was imminent, Soren declared, and asserted that he would not be browbeaten and would return to fight another day.

Soren’s official handle on X tweeted a photograph of Soren waving from a car with a few lines from an unattributed poem to tell people that this was a pause and not a break from his political struggles. He also sounded defiant in ruling out any compromise. He also released a letter addressed to his MLAs, reminding them that they had authorised him to nominate his successor in the event of his arrest. He was accordingly naming a party and family loyalist Champai Soren, he asserted.

In the Jharkhand Assembly of 81 members, the ruling coalition had 48 members with JMM having won 30 seats and the Congress 17. BJP had won 25 seats and with the support of JVM’s three MLAs, two of AJSU and the support of Sarayu Roy, the BJP rebel who had contested as an independent, is in a position to marshal 33 votes, short of the 41 required to form the government.

Significantly, signature of four JMM MLAs is said to be missing from the list submitted to the Governor, including Soren’s own sister-in-law Sita Soren.

The ruling coalition has also objected to the Governor creating a constitutional crisis in the state by not administering the oath of office to Champai Soren. “There is no chief minister in the state at the moment, though Champai Soren does appear to have majority support. President’s Rule too has not been promulgated in the state as yet,” argued an observer in Ranchi. The Governor, he said, had to only satisfy himself that Champai Soren enjoyed majority support.

However, although the 43 MLAs supporting the ruling coalition were taken in a bus to the Raj Bhavan on Wednesday evening, they were not allowed to go inside and satisfy the Governor that they accepted Champai Soren as their leader.

As the drama continues, JMM dissociated itself from the Jharkhand bandh call for Thursday, unwilling to give the Raj Bhavan a pretext to impose President’s Rule.

BJP’s ‘operation lotus’ had last year sought to poach some of the Congress MLAs. There of them had flown to Guwahati and had returned to Kolkata, where they met with a prominent businessman, according to the state police. The three were however intercepted by the police on NH-16 while travelling in a SUV and Rs 50 lakhs were recovered in late July, 2023.

The three MLAs, Irfan Ansari, Rajesh Kachchap and Naman Bixal Kongari from Jamtara, Khijri and Kolebira, had told the police that the money was meant to buy saris for distribution. West Bengal police however had told the media that the money was a small part of a much larger amount for executing a ‘grand plan’.  Congress had suspended the three MLAs and accused the BJP of having offered Rs 10 crore each to defect along with others.

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