Elections

‘More Popular Than CM’, 'Didi Knows Our Pain': Kalpana Soren Takes Centre Stage In Jharkhand Politics

Bonding exclusively with women, Kalpana Soren is making a mark for herself in the political space dominated by men, one campaign rally at a time

SURESH K PANDEY
In the last couple of months, Kalpana Soren has become a familiar name in Jharkhand politics. Photo: SURESH K PANDEY
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It is around 8:30 pm. Though the scorching heat of May has settled down a few hours ago, sweaty weather of what they call ‘lal mitti’ has made it unbearable. But for Fatima and her daughter at Ghatkul village of Giridih district in Jharkhand, it is a moment of excitement. In a few hours they are about to see Kalpana Soren- their ‘Kalpana Di’. “We came around 3 pm and since then, we have been waiting here. For the first time I will see Kalpana di,” says Fatima while trying to calm her five years old daughter who seems desperate to go home.

“She is coming”- someone whispers. A convoy of four cars is approaching the crowd. As the bright headlights tear off the darkness- thousands of voices chant together- Kalpana Soren Zindabad, Jail ki tala tutega, Hemant Soren chhutega (Longlive Kalpana Soren. Jail's locks will be broken, Hemant Soren will be free)As the slogan becomes louder and intense - she comes out of the car, climbs up to the stage and waves her hands. Fatima, in tears, says, “She is our new leader. She will work for us.”

Photo: SURESH K PANDEY
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For the last few months, since the arrest of Jharkhand's former Chief Minister Hemant Soren by the Enforcement Directorate, Kalpana Soren has become a familiar name. Be it rally of INDIA bloc at Delhi or in Ranchi, one of the chairs of the star campaigners is always reserved for her. It was on March 4 when Kalpana officially entered the public life. 

Notably, since December, a month before Hemant’s arrest, there were speculations that the political baton would be handed over to her. During this time, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) MLA from Gandey, Sarfaraz Ahmed, suddenly resigned and vacated the seat. People close to the ranks and files of JMM say that it was meant to launch Kalpana in the state's politics. A few weeks later while Ahmed was sent to Rajya Sabha, Kalpana was nominated for the same assembly seat.

However, the journey, that started with her being nominated as a candidate for a by-poll assembly election, soon turned out to be different and she became one of the most sought-after campaigners for INDIA bloc.

Born in Punjab to an Army family, she roamed around the country and embodied what she calls ‘mini India’. “As my father was in Army and had a transferrable job, I got to experience different cultures in different parts of the country. I witnessed the unity in diversity,” she says. And this experience shapes her political understanding, she adds. 

A mother of two - Kalpana never participated in the electoral politics of the state while her father-in-law Disham Guru Shibu Soren, husband Hemant Soren and sister-in-law Sita Soren- dominated the political discourse for decades. “And when Hemant ji went to jail, I felt my responsibility has expanded from being a woman who is managing household to someone whose family consists the people of the state,” she says while addressing a public gathering at Ghatkul. 

That the gaze of a woman political leader is different than men doesn’t miss her focus. While addressing the Anganwadi workers who have come to meet her to express their discontent, she says, “As a woman I know how difficult it is to run household with minimum resources. As the price of each and every commodity has increased in the last few years, we are running out of money.” Amidst claps and cheers, she continues, “In Diwali or other festivals, we want to save some money and buy gift for our family members. But is it possible now? Can we even think of buying a shirt for our husband or a toy for our child?” The collective ‘nahi’ (no) as echoes in the convention room, she affirms, “This is the reason, you have to vote for us- for Hemant ji, for me.”

Photo: SURESH K PANDEY
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Such assertion of her gender identity has been a consistent feature in her campaigns. One of the JMM supporter, Mohd. Abdul Sattar Ansari, says, “She can directly connect to woman and that is quite unprecedented in Jharkhand politics.” In her nukkars (small public meetings) at Pratappur, Ghatkul and other small villages, women make up more than 60% of the audience.

“Kalpana di will meet the women and children. Please make space for her,” announces a JMM leader from the stage at Pratappur. And she enters the crowd. While most people are busy either in clicking a selfie or managing space to have a glimpse of their new leader, she patiently asks one of the women, “Have you taken food? I know your problems”. Holding hands of Geeta Munda, she reassures that their ‘sister is here to take care of her’. “During her conversation, she swiftly switches from Hindi to Santhali and it becomes easier for Adivasi people to connect to her,” says a local journalist. 

Not only Adivasis, her popularity among Muslims is growing day by day, points out Mohd. Siraj, a village veteran. “A few days ago during a rally at Teloti, she paused her speech during Maghrib azaan and thereafter said that it is an indication from Allah that the time is changing. No leader stands for us like this,” adds Siraj. Even in Ghatkul, she starts her speech with both ‘Assalam Aleikum’ and ‘Johar’ bringing in a tactical shift in the electoral campaign in Jharkhand. “This is the reason why we want her to be our CM”, Riyazuddin, a migrant worker chips in.

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A devotee of Hanuman, Vijay Hansda Sadhuji is also equally enthusiastic about Kalpana’s prospect. Known as Sadhuji because of his devotion- he has been walking barefoot for the last 24 years - Hansda says, “I don’t subscribe to the view of Sarna as a different religion. As a Hanuman bhakt, I believe in Hinduism but I support Kalpana as our leader. She is so dynamic.”

However, in the political power corridors, the discussions over Kalpana’s fate, after Hemant’s release could be heard. A party insider says, “It will be the decision of high command.” Indian political history has seen examples like Rabri Devi who went to political oblivion as her son Tejashwi Yadav took the baton.

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One can also observe the similar fate of Sunita Kejriwal, who shot to fame after Arvind’s arrest, but as soon as he got interim bail, she seems to have lost the sheen. But Kalpana has not entered politics to move back. With robust conviction, she says, “Definitely, I will be there. I am contesting for an MLA seat in Gandey. I have taken up the responsibility of the people the state and there is no question of backtracking.”

Kalpana has somehow become more important than the sitting CM, Champai Soren.
Kalpana has somehow become more important than the sitting CM, Champai Soren. Photo: SURESH K PANDEY
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Like any other JMM leader, Kalpana is also seeking votes in name of Hemant Soren. But the only difference is the emphasis on her identity as Hemant’s wife. Tejashwi Yadav while addressing a rally at Bengabad village in Giridih, says, “Kalpana Bhabhi took up the responsibility when my brother Hemant went to jail. When there is hard time, women stand strong and this is what she teaches us. 

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Navigating her identity between ‘Bhabhi’ and ‘Didi’, Kalpana has somehow become more important than the sitting CM of the state Champai Soren. “People don’t come to listen to the CM. They just want Kalpana to address the crowd,” says Sunil Mahto who is about to leave the rally as soon as Yadav’s chopper leaves the ground. Champai is yet to address the audience. But he pauses for a while. “Still didi is on the stage. She may not like it,” he whispers. He waits unless Kalpana climbs down off the stage. She is going for the next rally. A tired Mahto says, “Dum to hai isme" (She has stamina)”.

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