Tribal leader Champai Soren, 67, has always been a perpetual “chief minister in waiting” in Jharkhand. He has had the perfect credentials – an Adivasi by birth, a loyalist of the first family of his Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) party, a crusader for statehood of Jharkhand and a seven times MLA. All that helped him become State Minister thrice, including this time in the Hemant Soren led coalition government.
But, a crisis within the party – which emerged as CM Hemant Soren was forced to resign on January 31 ahead of his arrest by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in a money laundering case – turned out to be an opportunity for him to shed the CM in waiting tag. On Friday, Champai, who once tilled agricultural fields in his native place in Seraikela-Kharsawan districts, was sworn in as the 12th CM of Jharkhand.
“In 2002, 2006 and 2010, Champai Soren’s name was floated from within the party as a probable CM candidate but it did not happen. This time, he turned out to be lucky,” a political observer tracking the JMM said.
Soren will take a trust vote on February 5 to retain the chief ministership of the coalition government which is in the last leg of its tenure ending later this year. JMM and ruling ally Congress MLAs and both the party leaders were taken to Hyderabad after the swearing-in to avoid poaching ahead of the trust vote.
Champai, who was Minister of Food and Civil Supplies and Transport in the Shibu Soren government, emerged as the preferred candidate to replace the JMM president given his loyalty, seniority and experience as a minister and seven-time MLA from Saraikela assembly seat, beginning from 1991 in the undivided Bihar, said party sources.
Also, attempts to keep the power within the Hemant family by foisting his wife Kalpana Soren as the CM did not succeed. That was partly due to an internal feud since Hemant’s elder brother Durga’s wife and three times MLA, Sita Soren, threw her hat in the ring, taking a plea that she was more experienced and already a legislator in comparison to Kalpana who held an MBA degree, was a novice in politics, the political observers stated.
“I used to work in farms along with my father (Simal Soren)... Now fate has offered me a different role,” Champai Soren told reporters in Ranchi after becoming the CM. Born on November 11, 1956, Champai could not even complete his schooling. He dropped out after passing 10th standard from Ram Krishna Mission High School, Bistupur, Jamshedpur, in 1974.
The veteran tribal politician is married and has seven children. For taking up the cause of statehood, he wears the epithet of “Jharkhand Tiger” or “Kolhan Tiger”. His political career began when he was elected as an independent MLA in a by-election from the Saraikela seat in 1991 which was nine years before Jharkhand was carved out from Bihar. Four years later, he retained the assembly constituency as a JMM candidate, defeating BJP’s Panchu Tudu.
But, in the first elections after the birth of Jharkhand in 2000, he was defeated by his BJP rival Anant Ram Tudu. Champai bounced back in 2005 and held on to the seat in subsequent polls of 2009, 2014 and the last one in 2019.
He was a cabinet minister in the BJP government headed by Arjun Munda, from September 2010 to January 2013. Interestingly, he is the fourth CM from his Kolhan division, Arjun Munda, Madhu Koda and Raghuvar Das.