Dec 5, 2006
NEW DELHI: Marking a milestone for the rule of law in India, a Delhi court on Tuesday sentenced Shibu Soren to life imprisonment for conspiring to murder his private secretary in 1994 following the JMM MPs’ bribery scam to save the Congress government headed by Narasimha Rao.
This is the first-ever conviction of a sitting Union Cabinet minister. Since it involved murder, life sentence was the minimum penalty in store for the 65-year-old tribal leader from Jharkhand.
Though he resigned as coal minister immediately after his conviction on November 28, the life sentence may create a piquant situation for Lok Sabha as, unlike BJP MP Navjot Singh Sidhu, who was convicted the same week in a case of homicide, Soren has so far not quit the House.
Under Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act, all that a convicted legislator has to do to escape disqualification is to file an appeal within three months. If Soren does not get bail from the Delhi High Court pending the appeal, the Speaker may have to make unprecedented arrangements for a life convict to attend the House from jail.
The sentence marks the fall of once-charismatic "Guruji" who wore the mantle of a messiah of tribals after his radical campaign in the 1970s against dikus — exploitative money-lenders, landlords and businessmen from outside Jharkhand.
Additional sessions judge B R Kedia sentenced Soren to life along with four accomplices — Nand Kishore Mehta, Shailendra Bhattacharya, Pashupati Nath Mehta and Ajay Kumar Mehta — who were found to have abducted his estranged aide Shashinath Jha in Delhi and killed him.
A trusted associate, Jha was allegedly killed because of his demand for a share in the bribe received by Soren and other JMM MPs to save the Narasimha Rao government from a no-confidence motion in 1993.
The charge was that Soren got angry with Jha after he threatened to go public with the bribery transaction if denied his part of the spoils. He had been given Rs 15 lakh but wanted more. CBI sources said the total bribe amounted to Rs 5 crore