Forced to take charge after husband’s arrest, Kalpana strikes a chord - Hindustan Times
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Forced to take charge after husband’s arrest, Kalpana strikes a chord

By, Ranchi
May 30, 2024 09:10 PM IST

Kalpana Soren, who was involved in ticket distribution and attended INDIA bloc rallies in Mumbai, Delhi, and Ranchi, also contested an assembly by-election, triggering speculation that she could replace Champai Soren as the chief minister. Champai Soren was made the chief minister after Hemant Soren resigned minutes before he was arrested on January 31.

Over a month after former Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren was arrested on corruption charges, his wife Kaplana Soren, 39, made her first public appearance when she attended a ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morch (JMM) event on March 4. She broke down as she spoke about her husband’s arrest months before the Lok Sabha polls.

JMM leader Kalpana Soren during an election campaign rally in favour of Vijay Hansda. (PTI)
JMM leader Kalpana Soren during an election campaign rally in favour of Vijay Hansda. (PTI)

Hemant Soren was expected to lead the national poll campaign for the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) in Jharkhand. His wife was forced to take charge in his absence. Over the last two months, she has held over 30 election rallies, focussing on her father-in-law and JMM founder Shibu Soren’s sacrifices for Jharkhand’s statehood.

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Kalpana Soren, who was involved in ticket distribution and attended INDIA bloc rallies in Mumbai, Delhi, and Ranchi, also contested an assembly by-election, triggering speculation that she could replace Champai Soren as the chief minister. Champai Soren was made the chief minister after Hemant Soren resigned minutes before he was arrested on January 31.

A JMM leader said Kalpana Soren has shown potential as a leader and an orator. He added she showed she had a lot of confidence when she attended a college event in Bhubaneshwar in April last year along with her husband. The leader said she spoke to the students about self-confidence.

On May 22, Kalpana Soren was welcomed by the loudest cheer when she arrived on the stage to join Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra for a rally in Godda. The cheer forced the Congress leader to pause her speech. Kalpana Soren apologised for the delay in her arrival from Ranchi. Priyanka Gandhi then walked up to and hugged her, calling Kalpana Soren her younger sister.

A second JMM leader said there is no doubt that Kalpana Soren is in charge of the party for all practical purposes. “...whether she would also be given the chief ministership would depend on factors beyond her victory in the bypoll.”

The leader said Kalpana Soren will strengthen her position if JMM increases its tally of Lok Sabha seats. “There could be demand from the party cadre to put her in the driver’s seat in the government as well.”

In 2019, JMM won just one of 14 Lok Sabha seats in Jharkhand.

A third JMM leader said making Kalpana Soren the chief minister months before the assembly elections are due would be unwise. “Giving her the charge at this point could also not go down well with supporters of the chief minister [Champai Soren]. We have seen dissent from within the Soren family. Sita Soren [Kalpana’s sister-in-law] joined the BJP.”

The speculation that Kalpana Soren, who is from Odisha’s Mayurbhanj and an engineering graduate, could succeed Hemant Soren, was first triggered when JMM legislator Sarfaraz Ahmad resigned as MLA on December 31. Ahmad was believed to have been asked to vacate his Gandey assembly seat to allow Kalpana Soren to contest from a safe seat so that she could become the chief minister if Hemant Soren was arrested.

Champai Soren was chosen as Hemant Soren’s successor amid doubts about whether the by-election would be held for Gandey seat as assembly elections were scheduled in less than a year. The ECI eventually announced the bypoll to the Gandey seat and JMM fielded Kalpana as its candidate.

Even JMM’s opponents concede Kalpana could help the party, especially in connecting with the women voters, who have emerged as a key vote bank. “The role of women is increasing...It will increase further with the implementation of the reservation for them in the legislature. Women from the non-tribal communities could also connect with her. Additionally, being a woman, it will become difficult to target her as aggressively as we do against the male members of her family,” said a Jharkhand Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader.

JMM insiders said Kalpana’s role was limited to family and running a play school before Hemant Soren’s arrest. She continued to keep a low profile after her husband became the chief minister in 2019.

Kalpana was in the news briefly when she figured on the list of beneficiaries of plots in a newly developed industrial area near Ranchi. She surrendered the plot amid charges of favouritism and corruption.

Kalpana said the new role has been easier because of her background. “My father was in the Army...we have lived across the country due to his postings. It exposed us to diverse cultures, which is the soul of our democracy and the Constitution. India is a bouquet of different social groups. That is the soul of the JMM and the INDIA bloc parties,” she said.

“Relating to the secular ideology of my party represents comes naturally. I realised the love and affection our leader Guruji [Shibu Soren] and Hemant get from the masses only after I met party workers, both old-timers and the new generation, after my husband’s arrest. It gave me strength,” Kalpana said.

Political commentator Sudhir Pal says it is too early to assess Kalpana Soren’s real impact. “JMM’s traditional support base is among the tribal and the Muslim communities. More than Kalpana, the consolidation of this vote bank would largely be due to the sympathy factor in due to Hemant Soren’s arrest.”

Pal says it is comforting for the JMM cadre that they have an individual who can step into the shoes of their top leaders. “The flip side of Kalpana being elevated to be the party’s face would give its opponents fresh ammunition to target the party over nepotism and alleged corruption. If she takes charge of the government now, Kalpana would also have to face the five-year anti-incumbency.”

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