There aren’t many certainties when the chief minister’s fate as MLA is uncertain. But Jharkhand’s political buzz says an alternative to Hemant Soren, if needed, will certainly be another Soren. And that puts the entire family in focus.
A replacement will be needed if Hemant Soren is debarred from contesting for up to five years — besides being disqualified as MLA — which is the toughest punishment he may get for doing business with the government while being in office. The Election Commission has held hearings after BJP’s complaint over a mining contract, and submitted its opinion to the Governor. Announcement of a verdict is expected any day now.
Family’s journey so far
The Sorens are not very different from other regional parties dominated by families, with competing power centres that may see an opportunity in crisis.
Hemant Soren is the second son of Shibu Soren, the founder of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha who led the movement for bifurcation of Bihar to form Jharkhand.
Soren Senior — who’s been chief minister thrice and a union minister — is a Rajya Sabha member, but isn’t quite out there now. He has taken up more of a mentor’s role.
When he was front and centre, it was his eldest son, Durga Soren, who was being groomed as the heir. Second son Hemant was interested in politics right from the early days of the Morcha, but remained in queue.
Durga Soren died at the age of 40 due to a brain stroke in 2009. Shibu Soren’s next chid in line, daughter Anjali, has not been active in Jharkhand as she is married in neighbouring Odisha.
Hence, Hemant Soren got a more central role.
But Sita Soren, Durga’s widow, kept his assembly seat. She is a competing power centre for years now.
Scales in that equation tilted quite firmly when Hemant Soren, at 38, became the state’s youngest chief minister in 2013. That stint lasted only about a year. He got the chair again in 2019. Now, to keep him in place, the JMM-Congress alliance plans to take the fight to the Supreme Court. But, just in case, there have been discussions on other names, it is learnt.
That brings us to a longer list of Soren family names and their history in Jharkhand politics, rooted on tribal identity. Central position of identity may be a roadblock for some of the women in the family.
Shibu Soren: Will he step in? The patriarch, at 78, isn’t too old by political standards. He is the party president and an MP. But he has suffered from age-related health issues, besides a number of court cases.
Roopi Soren: Time for the matriarch? Shibu Soren’s wife, who has no administrative experience, can be a consensus candidate in case of a rift within the family. Political observers say chances of this happening are not too many. She has contested parliamentary elections before, but without success.
Kalpana Soren: Shift to front seat? Hemant Soren has been quietly getting his wife into the political mix, at least for a behind-the-scenes role. But her being from Odisha is a hurdle. The elder bahu of the clan, Sita Soren, isn’t quite on board with the idea anyway.
Sita Soren: Her time, finally? After eldest son Durga Soren’s death, Shibu Soren brought his widow Sita Soren into politics. She is an MLA from Jama, a seat her husband had held for 10 years. But she has been critical of the government. And she, too, is from Odisha originally.
Basant Soren: In line for promotion? Shibu Soren’s youngest son, MLA from his father’s former seat Dumka, isn’t quite a safe bet – legally speaking. Like brother Hemant, he has a clash-of-interest case pending with the Election Commission, and may face disqualification. Party MLAs see him as too brash to hold the top chair.
Anjali Soren: What keeps her out? She is Shibu Soren’s second child and only daughter. She is active in Odisha politics after marriage there. That keeps her out of the equation in her paternal state.
Same-same but different…
If Hemant Soren and the JMM decide to look for someone outside the family, then senior party leader Champai Soren, the MLA from Seraikella, is a possible choice; and not just because he has the same surname. He is seen as a loyalist who can be a dependable stand-in.