The full transcript of the BBC Hindi special programme Aapki Baat BBC Ke Saath with the controversial JMM leader and coal minister Shibu Soren on whether or not it is a cruel joke on Indian democracy to have charge-sheeted ministers in the cabinet.
Nagendar Sharma: Is it not a cruel joke on Indian democracy to be represented by ministers facing serious criminal charges?
Shibu Soren: I am not facing any personal charge, the cases against me have been made on the charges of leading people’s movements. I have been harassed for leading the fight for the statehood of Jharkhand. I began my career fighting for people’s causes -- this is my style of politics and I think democracy is for people’s causes only
BBC listener from Moradabad: Mr Soren, there is a notion that you wanted to become the coal minister again because you want to get the headquarters of Coal India Limited and Damodar Valley Corporation shifted from West Bengal to Ranchi, as you are eyeing the Chief Minister’s chair of Jharkhand after the assembly polls due in three months’ time...
Shibu Soren: I have never said that I want to get these offices shifted like luggage from West Bengal. Both the headquarters were set-up there during the British rule and have been there for centuries. Since the majority coal mines are in Jharkhand and after being granted statehood, something is required here. What I want is that the work should continue both in Jharkhand and West Bengal. It is not a question of merely shifting offices.
Nagendar Sharma: Mr Soren, you became the coal minister when the UPA government assumed office, but you had to quit because of the warrants by a court in Jharkhand, and now after a few months now you are back again as coal minister. Isn’t this ministry suffering because of all this?
Shibu Soren: I was born in the coal belt of the country, which is responsible 80 percent of the country’s production. The country’s energy is dependant on coal, and my top priority would be to increase coal production. Peace and the prosperity of the coal belt is dependant on production, and the development of tribal areas is linked to it. I am making all round efforts to see that the coal production goes up, and it is developed to the latest level. The need of coal for the country is paramount, and all efforts would be made to increase production.
I was the coal minister initially, and the circumstances in which I had to leave the ministry for the whole world to see. Such a ruckus was created in Parliament, that the Prime Minister told me that since I was in trouble, I should relinquish the office, which I did. But those who were making such a noise then have now seen the reality.
BBC listener from Sonbhadra: Mr Soren you are saying that you lead people’s movements -- is politics today merely for reaching Parliament and state legislatures in the name of people’s movements?
Shibu Soren: My friend, when you live in a democracy, you have to follow its norms. Our democratic system has given the right to the voters to elect their representatives, who have to then govern for a fixed period. I was elected as a member of Parliament by my voters, and then the alliance, to which my party is affiliated, decided to make me the minister, and I am fulfilling my duties. Whether a minister or not, I continue to work for the people. However, you have to respect the verdict of the majority in a democracy.
BBC listener from Dehradun: Mr Soren, why is it that when a particular political party is facing charges of criminalisation of politics, it decides to start attacking the other party?
Shibu Soren: My friend, there is a rule of law in this country and we are all governed by rules and procedures. If a particular person has committed an illegal act, he would be held guilty by a court of law, but you cannot keep on shouting guilty-guilty even before the trial. My strong view is that in a democracy, it is the duty of leaders to lead movements. In doing so they could be implicated in false cases, as I have been, but there is nothing to worry as the court of law would see what is right and wrong.
Nagendar Sharma: Mr Soren, you say that there is no personal charge against you, and you have been implicated for leading political movements, but don’t you think you have a lost a chance to have projected yourself as an example for the politicians of the country had you refused to become a minister pending a trial against you? Shouldn't you have waited till the final verdict of the court?
Shibu Soren: It is not important for me to be a minister -- please note this. But see the case against me was a conspiracy to get rid of me from the political scene. I became a minister only because I feel that I can do a lot for my people. I am absolutely clear in one thing that there is no personal case against me, it was made for leading a movement, which I would continue to do. It is my right.
BBC listener from Dharbanga: I share the opinion that you have lost a golden opportunity to have become a 'different' leader who could have sacrificed the chair for people’s sake.
Shibu Soren: I do not think that by becoming a minister I have lost an opportunity to be a different leader. On the contrary, I think that if I had stayed out of the ministry, I would have given a chance to the conspirators to claim their victory. I do not care about them. I know I have to work for the coal belt of the country, that is my aim. I fight for the people and they have stood by me. It was proved in the recent general elections. Those who conspired to snatch coal ministry from me would be taught another lesson by the people in the forthcoming assembly elections.
Nagendar Sharma: But Mr Soren, every party likes to claim that its leaders were falsely implicated in political cases. The BJP says its leaders were falsely named in the Babri Masjid case, and your party says the same about your case. What is the difference?
Shibu Soren: It is for the judiciary to see the difference. Our country has a clearly defined law, which would decide everything. The case against me is atleast 30 years old. When was the Babri Masjid demolished? The world knows it who did what in the demolition. It is also public knowledge what the case against me is. It is for the court to see who is guilty and who is not. This is what the law of the country says. Now, it is a practice that a person can contest elections, if he is not convicted and is facing a trial. Whom do you call a criminal in this country? It's all clear for you to see.
BBC listener from Barmer: But would this situation continue when Congress and allies are in opposition -- they would shout against Advani, Uma Bharti etc., for Babri cases, and now when you are in power BJP and allies would shout against your cases. Is this all that's left in our system?
Shibu Soren: We are governed by certain rules in our democracy. What Advani, Uma Bharti and others have done is well-known to the entire world. It is equally well-known why I have been harassed. Only those who are eligible to contest elections do so, and become ministers etc. -- therefore, I have great faith in democracy.
Nagendar Sharma: Mr Soren, you are saying you can do a lot as the coal minister, but the real situation today is that state governments are demanding royalty on prices. What is the centre’s stand on this?
Shibu Soren: We have to understand we are using the natural resources of the state by taking coal out. It is the right of the states to demand royalty, as after all they want development in return for coal. As far as royalty on prices is concerned, there is a mechanism of consultation between the centre and the states. In this process, from time to time, the royalty is increased also, and we would look into all the genuine demands of the states, as we are responsible for development of the states and increase in coal productivity.
BBC listener from Surat : Mr Soren, this term, "tainted ministers", is becoming old for Indians, whether it be the NDA government which had ministers named in the Babri Masjid demolition, or now the UPA government which has ministers with criminal and corruption cases against them. Can’t we live without such ministers?
Shibu Soren: When you live in a society, you strive for its betterment, and, for this, at times, you even agitate. Now the case against me was reopened as a part of a conspiracy to get rid of me politically. My view against those charged with Babri Masjid demolition is also that the court would decide -- but why start shouting before that?
Nagendar Sharma: But, Mr Soren, the court issued warrants against you when you were a minister. You went underground, nobody knew where you were. A sitting minister, a senior politician of the country like you missing -- don’t you now think you set a wrong example by evading the warrants?
Shibu Soren: It was a total conspiracy. I was very much present in Parliament, when BJP members used to shout "absconder, absconder" for me. When the central government asked the Jharkhand state government what warrant was there against me, in which case, in which police station, they first sent a reply that there was nothing against me. No warrant! Then since a BJP government is in Jharkhand and their central leadership wanted an issue to keep the disruptions on in Parliament , the warrant was manufactured in a day, to malign me in an old case. This is the conspiracy I am talking about.
BBC listener from Varanasi : Sir, why do political parties give tickets to criminals? Are you people not worried about the falling standards of Indian parliamentary democracy?
Shibu Soren: It is true that candidates of criminal character should not be encouraged by political parties, and especially those who have been convicted in criminal cases should not be there in politics. It is a fact that criminals contest elections, whether from the jails or outside and they get elected also. If all political parties work on this, we would welcome this suggestion.
Nagendar Sharma: But, Mr Soren, you are a part of the ruling UPA. Why doesn’t this alliance take the lead and form consensus to draw a line between political and criminal cases?
Shibu Soren: I have remained a revolutionary throughout my life and am not a criminal. Nelson Mandela was in jail for so long, Gandhiji was in jail, Nehruji was in jail. Do we hold all of them guilty? In this country, it is not a matter of who is ruling and who is not. There are institutions like the Election Commission who are best equipped to deal with all this.
Nagendar Sharma: But why do you want this trading of charges to continue? Why is nobody ready to take the initiative and put an end to these charges and counter charges?
Shibu Soren: You are right that this trading of charges and counter charges is a dangerous game, and would only weaken the democratic roots of the country. Our great country cannot be run by merely blaming each other. A Lakshman Rekha would have to be drawn to bring this to an end. A lot has been said on the issue of tainted ministers. Please tell me one thing when the law of the country permits that you can contest elections, why this hue and cry?
Why am I being targeted? Only because I fought against exploitation of tribals and creation of separate Jharkhand state? A case can be made against anyone, but please wait for the court to give its verdict! If I would have done anything against the law, then the court would find me guilty, but please tell me what would these people who shouted against me do, if the court finds me innocent?
Nagendar Sharma: What is the JMM strategy for the forthcoming Jharkhand assembly elections, and are you a candidate for Chief Ministership?
Shibu Soren: We would fight the coming assembly elections in alliance with our partners who were with us in the Lok Sabha elections when we swept the state. This time also our alliance would win, and the issue of chief ministership would be decided by the people of the state. We would see after the elections whom the people want as their chief minister, but this is decided after the elections, and the people of Jharkhand know whom they want as their new chief minister.
Nagendar Sharma: Would the JMM accept the chief minister from any other alliance partner?
Shibu Soren: At the moment we are not thinking about the chief ministership issue, we first want to sit down and decide the seat sharing with our allies. During the course of discussions, we would discuss the chief ministership also. This is an issue which is decided by the people’s support. Jharkhand Mukti Morcha is a big party in the state, we have been fighting for this state since 40 years, and our allies know fully well that JMM is the biggest party in the state with all round support of the people. We would sit with our allies and decide the issue of chief ministership.
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