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If not now, never: Shibu
- Ruffled JMM chief on damage-control

Ranchi, Feb. 6: Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) chief Shibu Soren is tired after a whirlwind campaign tour, but it's still not time to retire for the day.

'Khaali bada bada baat mat karo, baat karne se kuch nahin hoga. Hum sub ke liye yeh zindagi aur maut ka sawaal hai (Do not talk big for it will not get us anything. It is a question of life and death for us),' he shouts at a section of leaders surrounding him as this scribe is escorted to his room.

Stung by Stephen Marandi's rebellion and Cardinal Telesphore P. Toppo's observation that he was encouraging 'clan rule' in the JMM, Soren is struggling hard to control the damage.

'If it is not now, then forget coming to power for the rest of the century and be prepared for a life of humiliation,' he tells the leaders.

'Hum baap hai Jharkhand ka. Humne qurbaani diya hai, gaach ke upar raha, bhookha reh kar ladai lada (I am the father of this state and have sacrificed for the sake of the people. I lived on tree tops with empty stomach and fought the system),' he tells The Telegraph.

'It is a war,' he says, adding that the first war was won after a long struggle against the 'mahajans'.

'I have come a long way waging the war alone. Now I have grown old. For whose sake did I undertake all the hardships' Not for my clan. It was for the people of the region,' a perturbed Soren says.

He clarifies that the rebellion has not dented either his or his family's 'respect for Stephenbabu'.

'I did not force him to go to Rajya Sabha. He had in fact struck a deal with my son Durga who wanted to contest the Rajya Sabha elections. But Stephen asked him to back out. Durga stepped back. We too wanted that a leader of his stature should take interest in national politics. But today he accuses me of alienating him from grassroots politics. This has pained me a lot.'

But he feels Cardinal Toppo's comments are more damaging for the party's poll prospects since the areas that will go to polls in the second and third phases have a sizeable tribal Christian population.

The Cardinal had said the JMM chief 'meted out injustice' to a senior leader like Stephen for the sake of distributing some seats within his clan.

He had added that the action was against the ethos of the JMM that had tremendous support among the tribal Christians.

A day after the Cardinal's comments, Soren went on a damage control exercise, listing the contribution of the Christian priests to the tribal community in his election rallies.

'There was a time when the landlords did not allow the tribals even to sit near them. But the foreign priests came and called upon all to treat the tribals as humans. Their contribution can never be forgotten by the tribals,' he says.

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