New Delhi, July 24: Union coal and mines minister Sibu Soren resigned from the cabinet today on the direction of Manmohan Singh.
The Prime Minister’s advisory to Soren, who is in hiding since an arrest warrant was issued against him over the 1975 Chirudih massacre, was sent late last night after Congress leaders, including Sonia Gandhi, met at Singh’s house and decided he must go.
President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam has accepted his resignation.
If the Prime Minister’s directive to Soren was handed over through his personal secretary, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief’s resignation was given by Soren’s son, Hemant, a Lok Sabha MP. Hemant and four other JMM members met Singh at his residence, accompanied by parliamentary affairs minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Jamshedpur MP Sunil Kumar Mahato stressed the resignation was “unconditional”, apparently to scotch speculation that Soren had made Hemant’s induction a condition. Mahato said Soren would surrender if Ranchi High Court rejects his bail plea on Monday.
The BJP, which welcomed Soren’s resignation and said it may call off its “march” to Rashtrapati Bhavan tomorrow to petition Kalam to sack him as well as four other “tainted” Union ministers, hardened its stance later.
Its deputy leader in Parliament, V.K. Malhotra, who spearheaded the anti-Soren campaign with L.K. Advani, said they would meet the President and sustain their offensive against railway minister Laloo Prasad Yadav and three of his Rashtriya Janata Dal colleagues.
BJP sources said the coming chintan baithak (introspective session) at Panaji would decide if the party should continue to stall Parliament. The overweening view is that having “tasted blood” on the Soren issue, the “movement” against other “chargesheeted” ministers must not run out of steam. Sources said they would “certainly” continue boycotting Laloo Prasad in the House.
In the government, it is felt that the Prime Minister is as much a victim of the BJP’s attack as the Congress’ “faulty” political management. Official sources said Singh had wanted Soren to quit the moment the warrant was issued, but was advised by some in the Congress to go slow because of the political “implications”.
They reportedly felt if Soren was “forced” to quit, the JMM could snap ties with the Congress and eventually join hands with the BJP before the Jharkhand elections, due next year. It is believed the JMM leader had written to the Prime Minister, alleging the Congress was creating problems for him and even fingered a senior MP from Jharkhand.
Sources say the final push, which came from Singh himself when he convened last night’s meeting, was provoked by the NDA’s offensive.
“He was deeply hurt both by Murli Manohar Joshi’s remarks about him and the attack on the Speaker,” they said. Joshi, now a Rajya Sabha MP, asked in Parliament if Singh was also “absconding” when he left without making a statement on Soren.
It was suggested at the meeting, attended by home minister Shivraj Patil, defence minister Pranab Mukherjee, HRD minister Arjun Singh, law minister Hans Raj Bharadwaj and Azad, that the government should wait until Monday but Singh reportedly put his foot down.
Despite this, the BJP continues to paint him as a “hapless” Prime Minister who chose “not to speak inside Parliament but outside”. Party spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said: “It is a case of care-ofs. The PM’s letter was sent c/ Soren’s secretary and the former’s resignation letter to the PM was sent c/ his son. There is no news of where the minister is and this is unprecedented in Indian democracy.”