Ranchi/New Delhi | Ending suspense over his whereabouts and intense political drama, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren on Tuesday reached his official residence in Ranchi and chaired a meeting of his alliance MLAs, a day ahead of the ED is to question him in a money laundering case.
A day after the ED team visited the JMM executive president's Delhi home with the intent to question him and agency officials claimed that he was "untraceable", sources close to Soren said that the 48-year-old Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) leader came by road from Delhi, undertaking a more than 1250 km journey.
"I reside in your hearts," he told reporters in Ranchi after paying tributes to Mahatma Gandhi on his death anniversary. He was replying to a query regarding his absence.
"We all are committed to following the footsteps and ideologies of the Father of the Nation. We are proud that such people were born among us and guided us," he added.
According to sources, Soren held the meeting of alliance legislators at the CM House to discuss the present political situation in the state. In photographs and videos shared by Soren’s office on X, MLAs and ministers were seen greeting the chief minister before taking part in the meeting.
Soren’s wife Kalpana Soren was also present at the meeting.
Earlier in the day, state governor CP Radhakrishnan, who has repeatedly expressed displeasure over the "deteriorating law and order" in the state, called Chief Secretary Lalbiaktluanga Khiangte, and Director General of Police Ajay Kumar Singh at the Raj Bhavan to take stock of the situation.
After the meeting, the DGP told PTI that elaborate security arrangements have been made across the state to maintain law and order, including the deployment of an additional 7,000 policemen.
Prohibitory orders were imposed in key areas of Ranchi, including near the CM House, the Raj Bhavan and the ED office at Doranda, from 10 am to 10 pm, officials said.
Soren, also the executive president of the ruling JMM, had left for the national capital on January 27 night and his scheduled government programme in the state was cancelled without any explanation.
In an email to the probe agency on Sunday, Soren alleged that the ED’s actions were "motivated by political agenda" to disrupt the state government's functioning and claimed that its insistence to record his statement again on or before January 31 "reeked of malice".
"Preserve video recording of seven-hour questioning (of January 20) to make available to the court of law," Soren said in the email. He also agreed to record his statement in Ranchi on January 31.
The federal agency questioned Soren on January 20, and later issued a fresh summons, asking him to confirm his availability for questioning on either January 29 or January 31.
The Enforcement Directorate will question Soren on Wednesday in Ranchi in a money laundering case probe linked to an alleged land scam. The official sources have said that they have seized Rs 36 lakh, a BMW SUV and some "incriminating" documents during the search operations at his house in the national capital on Monday.
Meanwhile, JMM and the BJP leaders engaged in a verbal duel with the opposition party in the state claiming that Soren was "missing" for several hours after going to Delhi and the Congress and JMM alleging that the saffron camp was spreading rumours about Soren.
JMM spokesperson Supriyo Bhattacharya asked:"When the state chief minister Hemant Soren called the ED Directorate to record his statement on January 31, why did they reach his official residence in Delhi yesterday."
Commenting on ED's claim that it had recovered Rs 36 lakh during the search on Monday, Bhattacharya accused the ED and BJP state president Babulal Marandi of "planning" it.
"They are treating him like a criminal but I would like to make it clear that our CM is not afraid of anyone," he asserted.
Citing the ED's recovery of cash from Soren's residence, BJP MP Nishikant Dubey wondered if the chief minister has been hiding his "billions" of rupees after going "missing" for 50 hours.
In a swipe at the JMM leader, the Godda MP also claimed that his father Shibu Soren had also gone missing for 21 days while being a Union minister and that the son has imbibed some of his attributes.
The BJP has also been claiming that Soren wants his wife to become state chief minister in the event of his arrest, a claim that has been dismissed by him.
All the MLAs of the ruling alliance have been asked to remain in the state capital. They have already started reaching Ranchi.
Congress legislator Deepika Pandey Singh said,"The BJP’s ED, Delhi Police and IB together could not locate the chief minister. It is an utter failure of (union home minister) Amit Shah. He should resign immediately."
Singh also said the BJP was spreading rumours saying the CM was missing. "We met him at his residence. It is a big slap on the face of BJP's rumour machine," she said.
In his post on X, Marandi said:"People heaved a sigh of relief as chief minister Hemant Soren, who had fled on foot from his Delhi residence late on the night of January 28, returned to the CM residence in Ranchi safe and secure, almost 40 hours later."
Marandi, a former chief minister, also took a dig at Soren, saying how much trouble Soren had faced during his rush to cover the distance of 1,295 km from Delhi to Jharkhand.
"Forget about Delhi, It seems that Hemant ji will not even dream of going anywhere across the border of Jharkhand, let alone by road or air, in the near future," Marandi said.
State Congress president Rajesh Thakur said this was the first time when a question was being asked about a chief minister’s whereabouts and accused the BJP of "spreading rumours and creating confusion".
The ED has so far arrested 14 people in the case, including 2011-batch IAS officer Chhavi Ranjan who served as the director of the state's Social Welfare Department and deputy commissioner of Ranchi.
An employee of the Jharkhand land revenue department, Bhanu Prasad Prasad, was also arrested by the agency in the case.
The ED investigation pertains to "huge amounts of proceeds of crime generated by manipulation of official records by showing dummy sellers and purchasers in the guise of forged/ bogus documents to acquire huge parcels of land having value in crores''.