The Strange Case of Shibu Soren


Shibu Soren is the union minister for coal and mines and an important leader of the Jaharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), a movement that agitated for a separate state for Tribals carved out from the state of Bihar.

Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief Shibu Soren has taken risks all his life, and reaped rewards. But it seems Guruji, as his supporters call him, may soon run out of luck. The issuance of a non-bailable arrest warrant against him by a court in Jamtara, Jharkhand, in connection with the Chirudih massacre of 1975, forced him to relinquish the coal and mines ministry and go into hiding. He was looking for a reprieve from the Jharkhand high court, which was hearing a petition from him seeking the quashing of the warrant. But the court did not oblige and asked him to surrender before August 2, which he did.

This case is interesting for several reasons. Jharkhand is an area with a lot of mineral wealth, and the BJP led state government, interestingly led by Arjun Munda (another tribal) opened its doors to the exploitation of its mineral wealth, which may have been a reason that the JMM won the parliamentary elections two years into Munda’s chief ministership, and may pose a serious challenge during the upcoming assembly elections. In which case Soren is the victim of the BJP in Jharkhand, so that they can stay in power, and issuing a warrant for something that happened 29 years ago certainly points to that. On the other hand Soren also has ambitions to become the chief minister of Jharkhand and was involved in a bribery scandal in 1993, and seems to play the traditional politics of shifting support to the BJP or the Congress, depending on what is convenient, which could perhaps indicate his co-optation by the Diku (the exploitative outsider), a group that he agitated against.

The fact of the violence committed in 1975 is an indelible fact, but this violence needs to be understood within the context of Tribal society and the history of warfare among indigenous peoples. It is not a coincidence that Soren accuses the BJP of trying to create a Gujarat like situation in Jharkhand. An article by Ganesh Devy about the violence in Gujarat illustrates the particularity of the violence, when it comes to Tribal and non-Tribal interaction.

And at the end of the day, the ordinary folk of Jharkhand continue to be marginalized.