Rajat Sharma

Political fire over Jharkhand scams can singe Hemant Soren

AKB30 A day after the Enforcement Directorate raided a key power broker-cum-businessman in Jharkhand and seized 2 AK-47 rifles from his home, reports have come in about the Election Commission’s opinion on a plea seeking disqualification of Chief Minister Hemant Soren as an MLA for violating electoral law.

Governor Ramesh Bais air-dashed from Delhi to Ranchi on Thursday, after the Raj Bhavan received a sealed envelope from the Election Commission. The Governor had sought the EC’s opinion after a BJP delegation led by former CM Raghubar Das and legislature party leader Babulal Marandi, met him on February 11 seeking removal of Soren as chief minister, and disqualification under Section 9A of Representation of People’s Act, 1952.

This action deals with disqualification for government contracts, and it was alleged that the chief minister had allotted a mining lease to himself. Media reports said the EC has opined that Soren can be disqualified under the electoral law. The JMM has 30 MLAs in the 81-member Jharkhand Assembly, while Congress has 17 and the RD one MLA. The main opposition BJP has 26 MLAs in the House.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Alamgir Alam said there was no threat to the ruling coalition government. “Even in the probability of Hemant Soren being disqualified in this office of profit case, there is no threat to the government”, he said. BJP MP Nishikant Dubey demanded that there should be a mid-term poll.

Meanwhile, ED has arrested Prem Prakash, the lynchpin in the Jharkhand mining and MNREGA scams, under Prevention of Money Laundering Act on Wednesday night, after two AK-47 rifles and 60 cartridges were seized from his residence.

On Wednesday, ED had conducted raids at 17 places in Jharkhand, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and NCR in connection with the Rs 100 crore mining scam. The searches were conducted at 11 places in Ranchi, including Prem Prakash’s flat in Vasundhara Apartment, his residence ‘Shailodaya’ near Harmu Chowk, his office in Harmu, and residences of chartered accountant Jaishankar Jaipuria in Ashok Nagar and Morhabadi, and residence of another chartered accountant Anita Kumari in Lalpur and the house of a coal trade M K Jha near Argora Chowk. Searches were also conducted in the residence of Ratan Srivastava, maternal uncle of Prem Prakash in Sasaram, Bihar.

On Wednesday evening, the chief minister’s office issued a warning to media for linking Chief Minister Hemant Soren to Prem Prakash and ED raids. A press release said, “The Office of the CM takes strong objection to the manner in which certain media platforms have been reporting news of the ongoing ED raid on a private individual and his properties in Ranchi and other places…If the state government comes across any further malicious reports and tweets/digital posts, it will be dealt with as per due legal provisions”.

The most hilarious part of ED raids was that when their sleuths went to Prem Prakash’s residence, they expected to find wads of currency notes, but instead found two AK-47 rifles and 60 live cartridges kept inside an almirah. Soon, the joint director of ED reached his house, and as news about the seizure of AK-47 rifles was flashed, the police station in-charge of Argada Vinod Kumar reached the spot and claimed that these were not illegal weapons, but belonged to policemen who were deployed at his residence.

Police security given to Prem Prakash had been withdrawn by Hemant Soren government after his name figured as the kingpin in the mining scam. Ranchi Police said, the two policemen were returning home on Tuesday night after doing their duty, when it rained heavily. They kept both the rifles in the almirah and went home. On Wednesday, when they returned to take back their weapons, they found ED sleuths searching the residence. Ranchi Police said, both the policemen have been suspended for negligence in duty. The local police failed to give a proper reply to the question as to whom these two policemen were assigned as security personnel.

Who is Prem Prakash? He is known in Ranchi’s political circles as a power broker, and was close to IAS officer, former Mining Secretary Pooja Singhal, who is already in custody. He was a small-time businessman several years ago and used to supply eggs to schools for mid-day meal scheme.

A native of Bihar’s Sasaram district, he became close to RJD supremo Lalu Prasad several years ago, and was once beaten up on charge of stealing a cellphone. He made his entry into the power circles of Jharkhand in 2015-16. He supplied eggs to schools under Ready To Eat Food midday meal scheme. He owned a penthouse apartment in Bariatu locality of Ranchi, where political leaders and top bureaucrats used to attend parties. He bought a plot near cricketer M. S. Dhoni’s residence in Harmu colony to build a plush bungalow. He owned two luxury cars with the fancy number plate ending with 007. BJP MP Nishikant Dubey says, that “These are small fish. Wait for the big fish that will be caught soon.”

Chief Minister Hemant Soren did not comment on ED raids, but said, “some people do not want Jharkhand to progress. Development work has begun for the first time after 20 years, but some people do not like this.”

Politically, the flames of ED searches in Jharkhand could reach the Chief Minister, despite his office issuing a warning to media not to link his name with the kingpin. Soren, like Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, is saying that the Centre is using ED and CBI because it is afraid of development taking place. But Soren cannot deny that his ex-Mining Secretary Pooja Singhal is in jail for the last several months in connection with mining scam. Even the courts have not given her relief. Prem Prakash is said to be close to Pooja Singhal and the ED raids cannot be taken lightly. It is fast becoming a political issue. Even RJD and Congress refused to comment on the ED raids in Jharkhand.


RJD is fighting another battle in Bihar. On Wednesday, the CBI raided 25 places linked to RJD leaders in connection with the Jobs For Land scam dating back to 2008-9 when Lalu Prasad was the Railway Minister. The searches took place in Patna, Vaishali, Madhubani, Katihar and Danapur for nearly ten hours.

Raids were conducted at the locations of two RJD Rajya Sabha MPs Ashfaq Karim and Faiyaz Ahmed, MLC Sunil Singh, said to be close to Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi, ex-MLC Subodh Rai and ex-MLA Abu Dujana. These leaders are considered fund raisers for RJD. Searches also took place in Delhi and Gurugram. In Patna, supporters of Sunil Singh sat on dharna outside his residence and shouted anti-BJP slogans even as CBI was carrying out searches inside. Sunil Singh said that CBI officers tried to force him to sign some documents.

RJD MP Ashfaq Karim runs a medical college in Katihar, while another MP Fayaz Ahmed, a former MLA, also runs a medical college. They are said to be close to Lalu Prasad’s family. On Wednesday, ex-CM Rabri Devi said, these raids are meant to intimidate her party men, but the party will not be intimidated. CBI sleuths took CRPF personnel for conducting searches in the medical colleges.

BJP leader and former deputy CM Sushil Modi said, “Lalu Prasad’s family is habitually corrupt and they are used to frequent CBI raids”. Last year, CBI had begun the probe and in May this year, there were raids at the location of Lalu Prasad, Rabri Devi and their daughter Misa Bharati.

Inside the Bihar assembly, Deputy CM and RJD chief Tejashwi Yadav lashed out at the BJP and alleged that the Centre is misusing ED and CBI to intimidate political rivals. “The people of Bihar are watching and they will reply”, he said. He told the Assembly that searches were conducted by CBI at Urban Cube mall in Sector 71 of Gurugram. “This mall is being built by Whiteland Corporation and our family has nothing to do with this mall”, he said. In 2017, CBI had filed a case against Tejashwi Yadav. The chargesheet has already been filed and he is on bail since 2019.

For Tejashwi Yadav, CBI and ED searches are nothing new. His family has been facing cases since last 15 years. Lalu Yadav is already serving imprisonment after being convicted in fodder scam. Earlier, Lalu’s family used to blame Nitish Kumar for these cases, but now that Nitish Kumar has walked over to the RJD camp, the family is now blaming Narendra Modi.

Nitish Kumar used to raise corruption issue when his party was aligned with BJP. He used to describe Lalu and Tejashwi Yadav as the ‘Gangotri’ (fountainhead) of corruption, but on Wednesday, while replying to the confidence motion debate in the Assembly, Nitish Kumar played a different tune.

Nitish Kumar, while giving a clean chit, said, cases were filed against Tejashwi Yadav in 2017, but nothing came out. Pointing towards the BJP benches, Nitish Kumar said, “in BJP, honest and simple leaders do not get anything…I have no ambition for 2024 elections. My only aim is to unite the opposition”.

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