New Delhi/Ranchi, Aug. 22: Demand to install Shibu Soren as the chief minister swelled today, hours after he was acquitted by the Delhi High Court in the Shashinath Jha murder case.
Soren, convicted for the murder by a lower court in November 2006 and sentenced to life imprisonment, has spent the last nine months in prison.
He was brought to the state, from Tihar Jail, to face trial in four other criminal cases in sessions courts of Dumka, Giridih, Jamshedpur and Jamtara. All the four courts, however, have enlarged him on bail.
When the NDA government was toppled in the state in September last year, Soren was the coal minister. And one of the Independent MLAs, Madhu Koda, who switched sides with three other ministers to give UPA the majority, was installed as the chief minister.
But opposition to Koda has been growing within the UPA and with Soren walking out of jail, the JMM appears ready to push for a change of guard at the helm.
A division bench — comprising Justices R.S. Sodhi and H.R. Malhotra — of the Delhi High Court today severely criticised the prosecution and declared that the CBI had “miserably failed” to establish the charges against the accused. Expressing surprise at the lower court’s order convicting the accused, the bench said it was far from convincing and ordered the immediate release of all the accused.
The case against Soren was all along weak with CBI failing to recover even the body of the missing private secretary. DNA tests carried out on a skeleton dug out by the CBI near Ranchi, failed to link it to the mother and children of Jha. Moreover, while the prosecution had claimed that Jha was abducted from New Delhi, prosecution witnesses had deposed that they had seen Jha watching a football match and chatting with friends at a betel shop at Piska, near Ranchi, days after he had been allegedly abducted.
Soren was taking a nap this afternoon in the Dumka jail, when he was woken up and given news of his acquittal. He calmly switched on the colour TV set in his cell to watch the news before breaking into a smile. Soon calls came flooding in with congratulatory messages. Koda was among the first to call even as JMM supporters celebrated the order in different parts of the state.
Sound of crackers reverberated in Santhal Pargana, where people danced, beat drums, played with gulal and distributed sweets. Soren’s houses at Bokaro, Dumka and Ranchi were lit up and party workers took out torch-lit processions to celebrate the acquittal.
Soren’s youngest son, Hemant, and one of his lawyers, R.K. Anand, arrived at Ranchi this evening from Delhi. It would take two more days, he said, before Soren can walk free as formalities needed to be completed. “Soon you will hear the lion of Jharkhand roaring,” Hemant said.
A brother of the “missing” private secretary, Amarnath Jha, blamed CBI for the acquittal and declared the family’s resolve to appeal against it.