‘I’m A Chief Minister, Will I Flee?’

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Chief Minister Hemant Soren at home before going to Enforcement Directorate office in Ranchi.

Ranchi:

As he went for questioning by central agency ED over alleged money laundering through illegal mining, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren today said the probe is “part of a larger conspiracy by the BJP’s central government to destabilise” the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-Congress government.

He also addressed his possible disqualification as MLA for awarding himself a mining contract — based on the BJP’s complaint to the Election Commission — and demanded that Governor Ramesh Bais should “open the envelope” quickly.

The commission is learnt to have recommended that Mr Soren be stripped of his assembly membership. “The Governor has said he’s sought a ‘second opinion’. But we have asked the Election Commission, and we’ve been told there is no such opinion sought,” Mr Soren said, though not referring to what the decision may be. “I’ve heard the Governor is waiting for something.”

Calling the scam charges “baseless”, he said the BJP-led central government “will soon go after more leaders from Opposition-ruled states”.

“I hold a constitutional post as Chief Minister. But the way the probe is going, the way I’m summoned, it’s like they think I am the kind of person who would flee the country. I can’t remember anyone other than big businessmen having fled the country. No politician has fled like that,” he said, addressing supporters for about 10 minutes at his home in Ranchi before going to the Enforcement Directorate office.

He said there have been attempts to unseat him since the JMM-Congress won the election in 2019: “The conspirators were working like a submarine, too scared to come up. But that submarine is now being brought to the surface.”

The probe agency has arrested Mr Soren’s political aide Pankaj Mishra and two others – Bachhu Yadav and Prem Prakash – in the case. The ED says it has “identified” Rs 1,000 crore as “proceeds of crime relating to illegal mining”.

Mr Soren rebutted that such a scam “is just not possible”.

In a point-by-point written reply to the summons before he went for in-person questioning, Mr Soren said his government had increased the state’s earnings from mining royalty. Giving data for Sahibganj district, where the scam is alleged, he said that “to embezzle Rs 1,000 crore, illegal mining would have to be four times the legal mining”.

“To transport this, one would need 20,000 railway rakes or 33 lakh trucks. The Railways would not transport it without a valid document. Have you acted against any railway official?” he submitted.

“The whole state earns Rs 750 crore in the past two years, the period during which you have alleged a Rs 1,000-crore scam. I think you have not taken note of these facts and data before making allegations,” he further said to the agency.

He also cast doubts over statements of his “sworn enemy” Ravi Kejriwal, a BJP leader who was earlier with his party.

“I expect the probe to be free of any hidden agenda or motive,” he said.

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