Ranchi, July 24: Coal minister Sibu Soren today quit the Union Cabinet on the directive of the Prime Minister, setting off stiff infighting in the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha on who would take his place in Manmohan Singh’s ministry.
The resignation ended a week-long drama over an arrest warrant issued against him by a Jharkhand court in the 30-year-old Chirudih massacre in which 11 people were killed. Soren disappeared from public glare soon after the warrant was issued.
“We met the Prime Minister and have submitted Soren’s resignation to him. We have assured him that the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha is with the government. Now we will go to the people,” party MP Sunil Kumar Mahato, who was part of a JMM delegation that met Singh, told reporters.
Soon after news of Soren’s resignation broke, a section of the JMM — chiefly comprising Soren loyalists and family members — demanded that the party should now support the Congress-led government from outside. Another section said senior party MP and Rajya Sabha member Stephen Marandi should replace him.
The two groups have been eyeball to eyeball on the issue of Soren’s successor ever since the arrest warrant row erupted. The differences that cropped up between them soon after the UPA took charge have now grown wider.
The JMM has five members in Parliament, of whom only Soren was inducted into the Cabinet. Sources said the UPA had offered the party another berth but Soren loyalists refused it saying it could lead to him being overshadowed by another face from the region.
When Marandi landed here from Delhi today, he refused to talk to the media. He did not meet party workers either and kept his cellphone switched off. Sources close to Marandi said he spent the day deliberating with senior leaders and legislators what to do next.
Although the JMM leadership refused comment on the intra-party tussle, sacked party general secretary Muktinath Upadhyay alleged over phone from Delhi that a “strong caucus” had come up around Soren after he became a cabinet minister.
This led to resentment in the JMM as senior leaders found they were being sidelined. “Within two months of Soren becoming a cabinet minister, things changed. Power brokers surrounding him constantly misguided him. We were all helpless and so was Soren.”
Upadhyay alleged Soren was so badly hemmed in that he even sidelined senior leaders like Marandi and Teklal Mahato for the sake of the caucus.
“Stephen Marandi and Hemlal Murmu reacted sharply on my issue (sacking) before Guruji. There was a showdown as well,” he said.
Grassroots-level JMM cadres tonight took out torchlight processions across the state to protest the “government’s ploy to politically victimise Soren”. The party has also decided to “go ahead” with its agitation agenda, which includes stalling the Assembly.