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Aditi Phadnis: Cash and carry CM

Koda is the first ex-CM to be arrested for violating money laundering laws

Aditi Phadnis  |  New Delhi 

Just before results began coming in for the six assembly elections in 2005, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) voiced an interesting thought. It was suggested that while the PM was concerned about the outcome of the Bihar, Haryana and other elections, his primary worry was over a state that seemed the least important at the time. Officials confided it was Jharkhand — a state sitting on a volcano of left wing extremism, pluralistic politics and enormous riches on account of natural resources.

Manmohan Singh was prescient. The Shibu Soren-Arjun Munda-Shibu Soren-Madhu Koda-Shibu Soren merry-go-round is over. The state is under President’s rule and Madhu Koda, an independent who became chief minister of a key state government is now embroiled in half a dozen court cases, mostly over allegations of corruption.

The most recent by the Enforcement Directorate was for alleged money laundering, diversion of state funds and making illegal investments abroad including purchase of mines in places as far away as Liberia. His cabinet colleagues Kamlesh Singh, Bhanu Pratap Shahi and Bhandu Tirkey besides five others have also been booked.

According to the ECIR, Koda is alleged to have purchased mines in Liberia worth $1.7 million (Rs 7.8 crore) besides making other ‘benami’ purchases in the name of his close confidant Binod Sinha, once a tractor mechanic — of him, more later.

It can only be presumed that all this was done to keep an independent-led anti-Bharatiya Janata Party in power in Jharkhand in 2005.

Independent, did we say? Koda started out as an RSS sympathiser (shakhas, training, the whole shebang) in the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, fought the assembly election in 1995 and 2000 on a BJP ticket, and was persuaded to be part of the team supporting BJP leader Arjun Munda. Like all other politicians in Jharkhand, Koda was associated with the movement for statehood and lost in 1995 but won in the 2000 assembly election following Bihar’s bifurcation, rising to become a minister of state in the Babulal Marandi government. His performance, colleagues say, was chequered, which is why the BJP denied him a ticket in the 2005 election. He contested as an independent and won. Then, as an independent, he happened to be in the right time at the right place in 2005 when the Congress needed someone to head a coalition to prevent the BJP from coming to power in the state after the election threw up a hung House. The independents — Koda, Kamlesh Singh and others — formed a tactical partnership. After the UPA agreed to propel Koda to chief ministership, the others held on to their portfolios.

Those were good times. The Enforcement Directorate chargesheet says that property in the name of Binod Sinha, was valued above Rs 200 crore acquired mostly during this period. The mechanic also owned an iron sponge mill worth Rs 18 crore situated in Chandil in Jamshedpur, another rolling mill worth over Rs 13 crore and two flats in Jamshedpur. He also owned a dozen-odd companies with diverse business interests in sectors like steel, cement, cars, infrastructure, agro products and tourism.

Few know this but Koda also okayed on his last day in office, some proposals concerning the Chiria iron ore mines. These decisions were later reversed.

At a press conference earlier this week, Koda was asked if there had been an increase in his assets after becoming minister and then the chief minister (he filed an affidavit during the assembly elections stating his assets were worth Rs 130,000).”Yes, it has increased. It was due to salary. Everything is there on record. I have given declaration regarding my property. It is audited,” he said.

The cases against Koda will go on and the law will take its course. But it is clear that in Jharkhand, no political group has clean hands. This is mystifying. How politics in a state as important as this one — not just for iron ore riches that it has but also for the festering Naxal insurgency, and the grinding poverty of tribals — could be so badly mismanaged is hard to comprehend.

Jharkhand is one of the few states in India where aides of a Governor have been arrested for corruption. It is a state where left wing extremists can — and have — hijacked whole trains to highlight their demands. Now the first former chief minister in India to have been arrested for violating money laundering laws is from Jharkhand. Frankly, even Alice would have been confused.

First Published: Sat, October 17 2009. 00:32 IST