Bearded Patriarch, Tribal Messiah ‘Dishom Guru Shibu Soren and his legendary exploits

In political

By Frank Huzur

In history of Jharkhand, once southern pockets of the United Bihar, Shibu Soren is one of the Aboriginal resistance heroes, among many others, who fought and who stood up against the post-colonial occupiers of his traditional lands on the northern Indian soil.

Shibu Soren was born 11 January 1944. Hailed in public as Dishom Guru (Great revolutionary leader), the septuagenarian sporting flowing beard and tousled, slick long hair, thrice served as Chief Minister of Jharkhand, first in 2005 for 10 day (2 March to 12 March), then from 2008 to 2009 and again from 2009 to 2010.  The great leader was born in Nemra village of Ramgarh district, in undivided Bihar state of India. He belongs to Santhal ethinic groups. He completed his schooling in the same district. During his schooling his father, Shobaran Soren, was murdered by thugs employed by money lenders.

He is married to Roopi Kisku. He has three sons Durga Soren, Hemant Soren, and Basant Soren and a daughter, Anjali Soren. Hemant Soren was Chief Minister of Jharkhand from July 2013 to December 2014. His elder son Durga Soren was MLA from Jama from 1995 to 2005. Durga’s wife Sita Soren is current MLA from Jama. Basant Soren is president of the Jharkhand Yuva Morcha a youth wing of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha.

INDIA – MAY 22: Shibu Soren, Union Cabinet Minister for Coal and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) chief in New Delhi, India (Photo by Sipra Das/The The India Today Group via Getty Images)

Durga Soren being the eldest son was a natural heir of Shibu Soren. But his premature departure on 21 May 2009 paved the way for Hemant Soren. He was only 39 years of age when he died in sleep of brain haemorrhage. In political streets of Jharkhand, Durga is hailed as a fighting spirit, a brave heart youth leader and a worthy successor to Senior Soren. He was elected as a MLA from Jama constituency for 1995-2000 Bihar Assembly, the last United Assembly before the creation of a separate state of Jharkhand for which he fought alongside his father Shibu Soren for two decades. Durga is survived by his wife Sita Soren, who is now also an MLA, and three daughters, Jayashree, Rajshree and Vijayshree.

Shibu was sworn in as the third Chief Minister of Jharkhand on 30 December 2009 after winning the Jharkhand Assembly elections. He resigned on 30 May 2010 after failing to obtain coalition support from the Bharatiya Janata Party, his national party partner. He previously represented the Dumka constituency of Jharkhand in the 14th Lok Sabha, and is the President of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) political party, a constituent of the UPA.

On 9 January 2009, Soren was defeated in the by-election for the Tamar assembly constituency by political novice Gopal Krishan Patar, alias Raja Peter, of the Jharkhand Party by a margin of over 9,000 votes. After the Assembly elections Soren once again formed the Government along with the BJP, and was sworn in as Chief Minister of Jharkhand on 30 December 2009.

He was the Minister for Coal in the Union Cabinet in November 2006, when a Delhi district court found him guilty in the murder of his private secretary Shashi Nath Jha in 1994. He has also been indicted in the past on other criminal charges.

Shibu Soren belongs to Santhal ethnic tribe of Jharkhand. The Santhal are the largest tribe in Jharkhand in terms of population and are also found in the states of Assam, Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal. The ethnic group is native to India and Bangladesh in South Asia. As a matter of fact, Santhal are the largest ethnic minority in northern Bangladesh’s Rajshahi division and Rangpur division. Not only this, they have a sizeable population in Nepal and Bhutan as well. The mother tongue of Shibu Soren is Santhali. It is an Austroasiatic language. It is the most widely-spoken of the Munda languages.  When the British Raj became a reality, the region experienced a new dawn of development and progress but the price of British Raj was also pickled in tax burden. Santhals, for generations, had been dependent on tree-cutting for sustenance. They had not been introduced to settled agriculture. The British began to spur Santhals on to practice settled agriculture instead of cutting the trees. Santhals, more than any other tribes of the hills and mountains, agreed to clear the forests of the Rajmahal hills. In 1832, the British demarcated a large number of areas as Damin-i-Koh or Santhal Paragana. Santhals were encouraged to migrate from Cuttack, Dhalbhum, Birbhum, Manbhum and Hazaribagh to begin cultivation of these lands as farmers. For revenue generation, British ordered imposition of taxes. Local feudal lords, Zamindars, were pivotal in ensuring the exploitation of settled farmers. Money lenders thrived in further enslavement of the poor Santhals. Such was the scale of exploitation by money lenders that Shibu Soren’s father, Shobaran, had to pay with his life. He was murdered by hired criminals of the local money lenders. The death of father at hands of money lenders was a bolt from the blue for adolescent Shibu. There was a rude awakening for him to mobilize Snthals against the gang of exploitative money lenders and feudal lords. History of his ancestors further egged him on to launch a final onslaught against the entrenched feudal order. In the nineteenth century, rebellion of two Santhal brothers, Sidhu and Kanha Murmu had become a legendary folktale of inspiration. Shibu Soren was inspired by the zeal and passion of Sidhu and Kanhu.

Sidhu Murmu and Kanhu Murmu were the leader of the Santhal rebellion (1855–1856), the rebellion in present-day Jharkhand and Bengal (Purulia and Bankura) in eastern India against both the British colonial authority and the corrupt zamindari system.

The British rulers had deployed  mahajans and zamindars as tax-collecting intermediaries in the settled region. The trading class in a nexus with feudal elements were controlling the local economy. Many Santhals became victims of corrupt money lending practices. They were lent money at exorbitant rates. A large number of farmers could not repay their loans due to sky-high interest rate. Money lenders began to deploy armed criminals to forcibly take away the land. Defaulting farmers were pushed into bonded labour. It was equivalent to slave trade of Negroes in America and Europe. The maltreatment of Santhals was bound to spark a civil rebellion sooner than later.

The moment of reckoning arrived on 30 June 1855. Sidhu and Kanhu emerged with a rag tag army of 10,000 Santhals in an open revolt against the British colonial forces. The Santals initially gained some success but soon the British found out a new way to tackle these rebels. Instead, they forced them to come out of the forest. In a conclusive battle which followed, the British, equipped with modern firearms and war elephants, stationed themselves at the foot of the hill. When the battle began, the British officer ordered his troops to fire without loading bullets. The Santhals, who did not suspect this trap set by the British war strategy, charged with full potential. This step proved to be disastrous for them. As soon as they neared the foot of the hill, the British army attacked with full power and this time they were using bullets. Although the revolution was suppressed, it marked a great change in the colonial rule and policy. The day is still celebrated among the Santhal community

Shibu, powered by the legend of Sidhu and Kanhu, merely at the age of 18 years old, formed the Santhal Navyuvak Sangh. In 1972, Bengali Maxist trade union leader A. K. Roy, Kurmi-Mahato leader Binod Bihari Mahato and Santal leader Shibu Soren formed Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. Shibu was appointed the general secretary of JMM. Fluttering Green flags with image of bearded patriarch Shibu Soren and election symbol of bow and arrow are familiar sights wherever you go in capital Ranchi and elsewhere in Jharkhand.

The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha fixed four aims – Struggle for the formation of a new and separate state of Jaharkhand, Struggle against prevailing feudal system, and Struggle for rehabilitation of displaced and finding jobs for ethnic tribes in local industries and last aim was to conserve the forest. It was Shibu Soren who dreamt for a separate state for its people and started a series of agitations on mass scale. Later, taking a queue from him some others also followed the suit.

Thereafter, he launched a series of agitations to liberate his land from the clutches of outsiders. Reclaiming the glory of tribal people became his holy cause. His leadership strengthened the resolve of struggling Santhal and other tribes to reclaim their lost lands. Some of them started forcibly harvesting in the lands after taking over from the non-tribal feudal elements.

Shibu Soren was known for delivering summary justice against landlords and money lenders, sometimes by holding own courts. On 23 January 1975, he allegedly incited a campaign to drive away “outsiders”, or the ‘non-tribal’ people. At least eleven people were killed. Soren and numerous others were charged with various crimes related to this incident. After extended legal proceedings, Soren was acquitted on 6 March 2008. However, possibly related incitement charges—dating from two earlier deaths in 1974—remain pending.

By the time of Emergency, Shibu had become an household name in then South Bihar. His followers looked up to their ‘Dishom Guru’ for final deliverance. However, he lost his first Lok Sabha election in 1977. He was first elected to the Lok Sabha in 1980 from Dumka.

Dumka gained national recognition during the rebellion of Santhal tribe against the British rule. It was made headquarters of the Santhal Paragana region after carving it out of the Bhagalpur and Birbhum district after than Santhal Hool of 1855. Considered as tribal heartland, Dumka is the bastion of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and Guruji has represented the constituency seven times in Indian Parliament. His political movement focused single-mindedly on the education of Santhal and other tribal groups. Education in his view is key to understanding your rights. Fight till the last breath (Antim Saans Tak Ladenge) had been his famous stock phrase during the fifty years long public struggle. He mastered the Santhal sentiments like a magician and gifted them a proud legacy of social development more than infrastructure related progress. For Shibu, social and economic freedom as Babasaheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar proposed, mattered more than anything else.

He was subsequently elected to the Lok Sabha in 1989, 1991 and 1996 as well. In 2002, he was elected to the Rajya Sabha. He won the Dumka Lok Sabha seat in a by-election the same year and resigned his Rajya Sabha seat. He was re-elected in 2004.

Dishom Guru was made the Union Coal Minister in the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government, but was asked to resign following an arrest warrant in his name in the thirty-year-old Chirudih case. He was one of the main accused amongst 69, with allegations to kill 10 people (including 9 Muslims) on 23 January 1975, in a clash between tribals and Muslims. After the warrant was issued, he initially went underground. He resigned on 24 July 2004. He was able to secure bail after spending over a month in judicial custody. He was released on bail on 8 September, and was re-inducted into the Union Cabinet and given back the coal ministry on 27 November 2004, as part of a deal for a Congress-JMM alliance before Assembly elections in Jharkhand in February-March 2005.

On 2 March 2005, after much political bargaining and quid pro quo he was invited to form the government in Jharkhand by the Governor of Jharkhand. He resigned as Chief Minister nine days later, on 11 March, following his failure to obtain a vote of confidence in the Assembly. In 2019 Lok Sabha Elections, he lost to Sunil Soren of BJP from Dumka constituency.

At the turn of millennium, Shibu Soren was hurtling from one crisis to another. The rise of BJP in Jharkhand queered the pitch for him and his political movement. In a way, a witch hunt and politics of vendetta was launched against the revolutionary leader to weaken him just as legendary Lalu Prasad Yadav had been snared in a series of fictional cases related to Fodder scam.

On 28 November 2006, Soren was found guilty in a twelve-year-old case involving the kidnapping and murder of his former personal secretary Shashinath Jha. It was claimed that Shasinath was abducted from the Dhaula Kuan area in Delhi on 22 May 1994 and taken to Piska Nagari village near Ranchi where he was killed. The CBI chargesheet stated that Jha’s knowledge of the reported deal between the Congress and the JMM to save the Narasimha Rao government during the July 1993 No-Confidence motion and an act of sodomy was the motive behind the murder. The charge-sheet asserted that: “Jha was aware of the illegal transactions and also expected and demanded a substantial share out of this amount from Soren.” Later on, supreme court of India clearly stated that Soren and others are not guilty.

Soren resigned from his post of Union Minister for Coal after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh demanded that he do so in the wake of the verdict. This is the first case of a Union Minister of the Government of India being found guilty of involvement in a murder. On 5 December 2006, Shibu Soren was sentenced to life imprisonment. A Delhi court rejected his bail plea, stating: ‘We cannot overlook the fact that the appellant (Soren) has been convicted after a detailed and elaborate trial only in November 2006 and sentenced in December 2006.

The bench also noted that he was also being tried in a number of other cases, including the case of mass murder in Jharkhand.

On 25 June 2007, Shibu Soren was being escorted to his jail in Dumka, Jharkhand when his convoy was attacked by bombs, but no one was hurt.

The Delhi High Court on 23 August 2007 overruled the District Court and acquitted Soren, stating that “The trial court’s analysis is far from convincing and not sustainable.”

The five men convicted by the Tis Hazari court were held guilty of criminal conspiracy, abduction and murder primarily on the basis of forensic evidence provided by a post-mortem report of a body discovered in Jharkhand, namely a skull superimposition test and skull injury report. This was in addition to eyewitness accounts and some circumstantial evidence.

Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) (Jharkhand Liberation Front) was founded by Binod Bihari Mahato. It has one seat in the 17th Lok Sabha. Shibu Soren is the president of the JMM. JMM is also an influential political party in the state of Odisha and parts of neighbouring of states.

The party was officially created on the birthday of Birsa Munda, the 19th century tribal warrior of Jharkhand, who fought against the British rule in present-day Jharkhand. The State of Jharkhand also came into existence on Birsa Munda’s birthday in 2000.

For almost six decades the movement for formation of Jharkhand from Bihar had been changing colour and strategy to gain a foothold. The Jharkhand Party grew politically stronger but the commissions examining the demands for a separate Jharkhand State rejected these demands every time. Despite the reports of these commissions deciding against them, the Jharkhand Party never lost sight of its ultimate target: a separate state of Jharkhand. Till 1962 Jharkhand Party won between 23-32 seats in the Bihar Legislative Assembly. Post 1962 the Jharkhand Party aligned with Indian National Congress and Jaipal Singh became a minister in Vinodanand Jha’s government in Bihar. With this, the demand for the Tribal Homeland was put on hold for nearly a decade.

At the 4th General Election held in 1967 the party had a very poor showing with only eight Assembly seats. The party soon split into several splinter groups each claiming to be the genuine Jharkhand Party. These were – the Jharkhand Party led by N.E. Horo, the Jharkhand Party led by Naren, All India Jharkhand Party led by Bagun Sumroi, the Hul Jharkhand Party led by Justin Richard which further fragmented and came to be called the Bihar Progressive Hul Jharkhand Party and it was led by Shibu Soren.

Binod Bihari Mahato founded “Shivaji Samaj” in 1967. Santhal leader Shibu Soren founded the ‘Sonat Santhali Samaj’ in 1969. The Party was founded by Binod Bihari Mahato, the leader of ‘Shivajee Samaj’, Shibu Soren and Marxist Co ordination leader Comrade Dr. A. K. Roy.

On 4 February 1973 Binod Bihari Mahto became the President and Shibu Soren as General Secretary of the party. The prominent party leaders at that time were: Comrade A. K. Roy (Party Secretary-Society of Industrial and Coal Laborers), Martyr Nirmal Mahto (prominent Trade Union Movement leader) and Tek Lal Mahto, among others.

In its early years, the JMM under Soren’s leadership brought industrial and mining workers who were mainly non-tribals belonging to the Dalit and Backward communities such as Surdis, Doms, Dusadh and Kurmi-Mahtos into its fold. However Soren’s association with the late congress M.P. Gyanranjan brought him close to the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi in New Delhi. He won the Dumka Lok Sabha seat in 1972. Irked by Soren’s association with the Indian National Congress, a few of the younger members of the JMM banded together in Jamshedpur and set up the All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU). This did not affect the growth of the JMM in the 1991 Indian general election where the JMM won six seats.

Ram Dayal Munda reignited the movement for Jharkhand by unifying splinter groups among the tribals. Under his guidance the Jharkhand Coordination Committee was constituted in June 1987, comprising 48 organisations and group including the JMM factions. Due to Ram Dayal Munda, Shibu Soren, Suraj Mandal, Simon Marandi, Shailendra Mahato, and AJSU leaders like Surya Singh Besra and Prabhakar Tirkey briefly shared a political platform, but the JMM pulled out of JCC as it felt that ‘the collective leadership was a farce’. The JMM/AJSU and JPP successfully orchestrated so-called bandhs, economic blockades in 1988–89 and mid 90s.

Jharkhand Chhatra Yuva Morcha (Jharkhand Student Youth Front), the youth and student wing of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, was constituted at a conference in Ranchi 16 October 1991.

The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha aims at the liberation and empowerment of Jharkhand’s ethnic tribes. The basic ideology of the party is true socialism and everyone’s participation, contribution, rights, honour & identity to build the nation in strongest way to lead the world society through their ethnic values and progressive destination.

The Jharkhand movement received a shot in the arm with the emergence of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha in 1973.  Shibu Soren revolutionized the movement with his charismatic mass appeal. The growing strength of the JMM was reflected in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections and the demand for a statehood for the first time shook the corridors of power with the then prime minister of India Mr. Rajiv Gandhi setting up a Committee on Jharkhand Matters(CoJM). In the light of the recommendations by the CoJM, prolonged negotiations between the Centre, the Bihar government and the movement leaders led to the setting up of the Jharkhand Area Autonomous Council (JAAC) in August 1995. It was hailed as a major step towards the creation of Jharkhand and the credit solely belonged to the herculean struggle of Shibu Soren who had been jailed more than dozen times till then.

Buckling under pressure from the JMM members, with whose support the Janta Dal had a majority in the state Assembly, the Bihar government led by lion hearted socialist leader Lalu Prasad Yadav on July 22, 1997, adopted a resolution for the creation of a separate state. In 1998, however, Rashtriya Janta Dal leader Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav reversed his stand on Jharkhand statehood. The JMM reacted sharply, withdrawing its support to the Lalu government.

After the last Assembly election in the state threw up a hung Assembly, Janta Dal’s dependence on the Congress extended support on the precondition that Janta Dal will not pose a hurdle to the passage of the Bihar reorganization Bill (Jharkhand Bill). Finally, with the support from both Janta Dal and Congress, the ruling coalition at the Centre led by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee of the BJP which had made statehood its main poll plank in the region in successive polls earlier, cleared the Jharkhand Bill in the monsoon session of Parliament in 2000, thus paving the way for the creation of a separate Jharkhand state.

Formation of Jharkhand Coordination Committee (JCC) in 1987.

A memorandum related to separate state comprising 21 districts from Bihar, West Bengal, Odissa and Madhya Pradesh, submitted to the then President Gyani Jail Singh, in Dec, 1987.

Shibu Soren became JMM president in 1991 after the death of the then president Nirmal Mahto.

Under the presidentship of Shibu Soren Jharkhand area Autonomous council (JAAC) was notified in the state Gazette on Aug 7, 1995.

A resolution was passed in Bihar Assembly for the creation of a separate Jharkhand state on 22 July.

Finally, on 15th November, 2000, birth anniversary of tribal warrior Birsa Munda, Jharkhand became 28th state of India.

Tribal people of Jharkhand are firm in their beliefs that they are still discriminated against as most of the people of the state come from SC-ST and other backward classes. Shibu and his heir Hemant Soren had been striving to ensure justice to the oppressed majority ever since.

Jharkhand is well known for valuable minerals and ores. Mining of coal, iron ore, bauxites, Zinc, copper, uranium, mica, golamite, limestone and granite are on for the last century. But tribals have never been compensated adequately. Exploitations still exist. Jharkhand got only 1500 crore of rupees as revenue against coal mining which is inadequate and based on faulty calculations. Shibu Soren always demanded that his people should be given the revenue which is based on current price. JMM is still fighting for that in Parliament.

Pollution, deforestation, displacement of people and chronic diseases are still major challenges in the state.

After 20 years of formation of the state, people of the state are still looking for a stable government, a government which is able to provide basic health and education facilities to its people. Job opportunities should be created for the unemployed youth of the state. It should also be able to provide relief to the farmers and small businessmen. Emphasis should be given to the development of basic infrastructures in the state. Maintaining forestry and preserving wild life are major challenges. Tourism could be a big source of revenue for which there should be concerted efforts to develop necessary infrastructures and facilities for this.

State is bleeding due to Naxals and related violence. A permanent solution must be find to end this menace. The current chief minister Hemant Soren’s vision for Jharkhand is as follows:

  1. Give agriculture industry status and registration of agriculture labourers so that they can get remuneration as industrial worker.
  2. Provide Agro marketing facilities at Panchayat level, where farmers can sell their product and purchase seeds, fertilizers and other agriculture -equipment.
  3. Provide irrigation facilities to farmers and electricity at subsidised rates.
  4. Strengthening tri-level Panchayati Raj System to provide relief to the people of state at their door steps.
  5. Rapid infrastructural development is the main vision of JMM, without this state couldn’t achieve speedy development. In this situation, construction of roads, bridges, flyovers, hospitals and educational institutes at all level, in the state becomes necessary.
  6. Women’s safety and their welfare are top priority of the party. Children needs special attention. JMM has zero tolerance regarding violence against women.
  7. Malnutrition is a big problem in tribal society. It can be eradicated through continuous efforts at Aanganwadi and Balwadi levels. We need to provide wholesome meals and additional food supplements like zinc, iron and folic acid to the children. Pregnant women need special care and attention.
  8. One fourth of the total population of the state is dependent on daily wages. They must be guarded against exploitation.
  9. Environment degradation is a big challenge in the way of sustainable development. Due to urbanisation, industrialization and mining environment is getting polluted. It needs to be protected.
  10. Special welfare schemes for ST/ SC/OBC and minorities are necessary. Protection and promotion of culture and regional languages should get importance as well.

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