My confidence comes from my adivasi DNA: Kalpana Soren

In her first interview, Kalpana says the Soren family is together in this fight

52-Kalpana-Soren Kalpana Soren | Sanjay Ahlawat

Interview/ Kalpana Soren, JMM Leader

A heat wave is sweeping across the rocky terrain of Giridih, situated in the North Chotanagpur region of Jharkhand. The mango trees outside the guest house where Kalpana Soren is staying are laden with unripe fruit, their branches swaying and swooshing, and some small mangoes fall to the ground, wrested by the winds.

Undeterred by the heat, Kalpana is set to leave for campaigning in Gandey assembly seat, a predominantly rural constituency in Giridih district. As she steps out of her room, party workers rush to meet her. Dressed in a pastel pink sari, she is understated in her style, but warm and cheerful in her demeanour. She greets party workers with folded hands, listens to them patiently, passes on their concerns to her aides for redress, and seeks their support in the election campaign.

Kalpana sat down for her first ever interview on April 30, a day after filing her nomination papers. She speaks about the day her husband, former chief minister Hemant Soren, was arrested, her entry into politics, her husband’s pep talk from behind the bars and the upcoming challenges. She says she will continue to be in politics. Edited excerpts from the interview:

Q/ What are your foremost thoughts as you take the electoral plunge?

A/ At first, I was not ready. Sir (Hemant Soren) is not here. But there was support from my party workers, especially Guruji (Shibu Soren), my family members, and all the INDIA gathbandhan parties in this crucial time. So then, because my name was given by Dishom Guru Shibu Soren ji, Hemant ji, the party, right now, I am ready.

Q/ Did you ever think that you will make a political speech or fight an election someday?

A/ Not really. I was living in a political atmosphere―my husband and my father-in-law are there, my whole family is in it. But I was busy taking care of the family, my kids, my husband. Because my husband was very busy, I thought one person should be at the forefront in the political arena, and one person should look after the family because both my in-laws are getting old.

Q/ You broke down during your first political speech on March 4. It was obviously an emotional occasion for you.

A/ March 4 is an important day for me personally and politically. The day before, March 3, was my birthday. On that day, I got a chance to meet Hemant ji in jail. He said one thing -- “logon se ye jakar kehna ki Hemant jail ke andar to zaroor hai, lekin Hemant zinda hai (Go and tell people that Hemant is definitely inside the jail, but Hemant is alive)”. So, it was an extremely emotional time for me, and the people were raising slogans like “jail ka taala tootega, Hemant Soren chutega”, “Kalpana Bhabhi mat ghabrana, hum tumhare saath hain”. I was overwhelmed. I had prepared myself mentally for the occasion, that I am not going to break down. But suddenly, it just happened.

Q/ You must be missing your husband terribly in these challenging circumstances.

A/ I can feel the anger of the people of Jharkhand. They are outraged over Hemant Soren being put behind bars over false allegations. We held the Ulgulan Maha Rally. The word Ulgulan refers to Kranti. The word was chosen because it is about Kranti for the people of Jharkhand. If this can happen to a CM, that it can happen to anyone else. So the people are angry, which I have seen in my interaction with the people. They say we are with you, we are with Hemant Dada, we are with Guruji. That is going to bring about a change in this election.

Q/ Did Hemant Soren’s arrest come as a shock or were you mentally prepared?

A/ The Enforcement Direcorate officers came to our home on January 20, and on January 31, they came again for interrogation. We thought they would do their interrogation and go. But suddenly they said they were going to arrest him. It was evening. We were shocked. It was a sudden blow to us. We were not in a very good state of mind, not sure what to do. But sir (Hemant) handled the situation well. He gave his resignation letter and the letter of support for the new government. Sir may have a very strong heart and mind, but that night, I was petrified.... My kids were not able to understand [what was happening]. My elder son went with me to the ED office, and we came back late in the night, around 2am.

Q/ Had he spoken to you and the children about something like this happening?

A/ No, it happened suddenly. He was taking his political decisions like what should be the next step. But there was chaos in the house. It was like, what is happening, how will we manage? My kids were not able to understand. You won't believe, my elder son went with me to the ED office, and we came back around 2am.

Q/ And the arrest happened just before the elections.

A/ Yes. It was a complete setback for us because Hemant ji is our star campaigner, our strength, our vision. He has the tremendous capacity to take the JMM to the forefront, not just in Jharkhand but also at the all India level. What I can say here is: “Aap sher ko jail ke andar pinjare me daal sakte hain, lekin sher to sher hota jai, jungle ka raja wahi hota hai. (You can put a lion in a cage inside the jail, but a lion is a lion, he is the king of the jungle).” You can always capture a person, but his vision cannot be held captive.

Q/ The prime minister talks about going after the corrupt, and he has named your husband as being among them.

A/ The land in question is Bhumihari. It cannot be sold or purchased. The ownership cannot be transferred. So how can Hemant Soren be the owner of that land? Second, we have not been given any documents. If they are saying he is corrupt, just show us the proof.

Q/ What does Hemant Soren have to say to you when you meet him? What are his main concerns?

A/ Hemant ji has a different kind of mindset. In jail, the other prisoners are getting a chance to meet Hemant ji, and they are giving request letters about their issues. One day, he said he was thinking about ensuring the elderly prisoners were covered under the Sarv Jan Pension Yojana.

Q/ But elections are happening and he can't play an active role in it.

A/ Hemant ji says it is ok I am behind bars, but you will see outside, there are innumerable Hemant Sorens standing. It is so because they have understood what the government at the Centre has done to Jharkhand. They stopped many of our schemes, such as Awas Yojana, they scrapped 11 lakh ration cards. Hemant ji created schemes for the people of Jharkhand from the state's own funds. But those at the Centre were afraid of the chief minister of Jharkhand.

Q/ It must be frustrating for you and the party that he has not been able to get bail from the court?

A/ Definitely. We are waiting for Sir to come out because during election, he is a gem, and the gem is behind bars. I am just waiting for that moment when he will come out.

Q/ When your husband was arrested, political observers said the JMM would disintegrate.

A/ Before 2019, the BJP government was there, and they used to call it a double-engine sarkar. If people were satisfied, why did they choose Hemant ji and the INDIA bloc parties? The BJP did not have programmes for girls and women or for food or pension. And that is why they are afraid of Hemant ji. We are strong, mentally, physically and emotionally. We are fighting this election confidently and we will win all 14 seats.

Q/ At the time of his arrest, it was speculated that Hemant Soren wanted you to become chief minister.

A/ Hemant ji proposed the name of our senior leader Champai Soren ji, and now he is leading our state. He is the chief minister and we are so happy that under his guidance, we are fulfilling all the dreams of Hemant ji.

Q/ So that possibility was not discussed?

A/ No, not at all.

Q/ How is Shibu Soren taking these developments?

A/ Guruji has struggled since childhood and his life is the story of Jharkhand. He is a strong person but it is a deep setback for him. At this age, when a child takes care of his father, despite his old age issues, he was a part of the Ulgulan rally, he was a part of my nomination also. This is the essence of Guruji and his blessings.

Q/ Can you say more about your family and childhood.

A/ My father is a retired Army officer. So we had an organised, disciplined life. Since he was in the Army, I've been to Punjab, Haryana, UP and Kolkata. We are basically from Odisha. My father always taught me not to be afraid and to take my own stand. He was a part of the peace-keeping force in Sri Lanka and served at the border. Being the child of an Army person, I have also become a warrior.

Q/ So the confidence we are witnessing right now comes from there.

A/ The confidence comes from my Adivasi DNA, which I have got from my parents, there is also my father-in-law, my husband and the whole family.

Q/ What was life like till a few months back.

A/ I have a small school for children of underprivileged families. I have my own businesses. But my first priority was my family because we have to bring up our children in such a way that they learn about our tribal culture. They should be rooted and proud of who they are.

Q/ You are from Mayurbhanj in Odisha, the home district of President Murmu. Have you met her?

A/ She was governor of Jharkhand. And we used to meet on occasion. We really admire her, especially since she is a tribal person. She is very genuine, humble and approachable.

Q/ The Modi government projects President Murmu as a mascot for its work for the adivasi community.

A/ I really respect President Murmu. But, talking about the Central government, when the Manipur incident happened, it had a deep impact on every adivasi person. Manipur is still burning. On that topic, no one is saying anything. It is a question of the asmita (pride) and astitva (existence) of the tribal people as well.

Q/ It was said that Hemant Soren was not interested in politics.

A/ In 2009, we lost Hemant's elder brother. At that time, my father-in-law had gone through a surgery. In that critical situation, Hemant ji had to take up the responsibility because there was no one. I always say, “Rajniti ne inko chuna hai, inhone rajniti nahi chuni hai (Politics has chosen him, he has not chosen politics).” He has come up as a strong leader, and everyone in the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha supported him.

Q/ Hemant Soren has a quiet demeanour. And you come across just the opposite.

A/ My confidence comes from the adivasi DNA. I draw confidence from my parents, my father-in-law, my mother-in-law and my husband. We may be different, but we are together in this fight, and the family is together. This situation has made us think about what is important for us, whether we have to be ourselves or merge with someone else. We have chosen to be ourselves.

Q/ Your sister-in-law Sita Soren has joined the BJP.

A/ My sister-in-law is elder to me and is mature enough to take her decisions. I don’t want to comment on whatever she has done. I just want to extend my best wishes to her.

Q/ The BJP's campaign is all about welfare schemes, especially the free ration scheme?

A/ I was studying the free ration scheme. It works out to Rs 5 per day for a person. So Rs 5 per day is the only guarantee they can give to the people? For Rs 5 a day, you cannot take away the rights of the people, throttle democracy and change the Constitution. You did not fulfil the promises made in 2014. So don't fool us by giving ration worth Rs 5.

Q/ The NDA had won 12 out of the 14 seats in the previous election.

A/ The BJP has snatched the Congress MP from Chaibasa. Now, they say they have 13 MPs in Jharkhand. The people especially in Chaibasa feel cheated because the BJP has shown its true colours by snatching our alliance MP. Three women have gone from our side to the BJP, one is from the RJD, in 2019, Annapurna Devi, second is from the JMM, my sister-in-law, and the third they have taken from the Congress. You cannot fight on your own dint, hence you are snatching MPs from our side.

Q/ How big a factor is the arrest of Hemant Soren in this election?

A/ On April 21, we held our Ulgulan Maha Rally. There was a huge crowd. That day, I understood we have already won the election and this is because of Hemant ji. I know the people of Jharkhand have completely understood Hemant ji is the face of Jharkhand and they have full faith in him and everyone wants him to be out of jail.

Q/ You met Arvind Kejriwal’s wife, Sunita, at the INDIA bloc rally in Delhi. It must have been an emotional moment for you both.

A/ We spoke about the need to stay strong. Hemant ji and Kejriwal ji did not bow, so how can we bend? When she came to Ranchi, she told me, ‘We are with you. Arvind Kejriwal ji is with Jharkhand’. When Delhi faced oxygen shortage during the pandemic, Hemant ji had sent oxygen cylinders from here. We have that connection. INDIA parties support each other. We have the human spirit, we have humanity.

Q/ At the rally, Sonia Gandhi sat with you and Sunita Kejriwal.

A/ It was my first meeting with her. I was so excited and thrilled because she is also a warrior, [considering] the circumstances she has been through in her life. She is an inspiration to every woman.

Q/ Are you ready to become chief minister?

A/ Right now, my focus is on the people of Gandey.

Q/ Will you continue in politics, or are you just stepping in for your husband?

A/ I will definitely continue. I know I can do this.