“Aapki itni himakat ho gayi, 2019 mei jeet ke baad, aapka apna beta, apna dada jisko aapne mukhya mantri banaya, aaj chunav se theek pehle, unko BJP walon ne jail mei dalne ka kaam kiya hai, wo bhi sharyantra ke tahat. Jis zameen ki baat karte hain, us zameen ka ek bhi kagaz nahi hai, fir bhi teen mahine se jail mei hain. Jail mein Hemant Soren sangarsh kar rahe hain, lekin bahar mein ek-ek jan, Hemant Soren hain; aapko is sangharsh ko aage badhana hai, kyunki ye chunav BJP banam janta ka chunav hai…”

(“After the win in 2019, your son and brother Hemant Soren was made a chief minister by you, but BJP dared to send him to jail just ahead of the elections. That is also a conspiracy, since the land they are talking about has no documentary evidence, and, still, he has been languishing in jail for three months. He is striving inside the jail, but, outside, you all are Hemant Soren. You have to take forward the struggle, as it is an election between the BJP and the people of India”).

This is Kalpana Soren, wife of the elected chief minister of Jharkhand, Hemant Soren, son of legendary leader of the tribal community in the region, Sibu Soren. With her husband in jail, arrested vindictively just before the elections by the BJP regime in the Centre, now, she has been holding the torch aloft, as she has decisively fought her way through the muscle and money power of the Hindutva brigade. And she has not relented.

With a huge vote count of almost 1,10,000 votes, Kalpana Soren has won a decisive victory in the by-election from Gandey, defeating her BJP rival by over 26,000 votes. Of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in Jharkhand, her party, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), has won three, its ally, Congress, in the INDIA block, has won two, and the BJP and All Jharkhand Students’ Union (AJSU) has won eight and one respectively.

Unfortunately, mass leader of the CPI-ML (Liberation), Vinod Singh, despite his mass connect and huge popularity among the poorest, lost the seat in Koderma after giving a tough fight. Kalpana Soren led huge rallies in his support. Nevertheless, the radical Left party would continue to remain a strong and crucial ally of both the JMM and the INDIA bloc, both in Jharkand and Bihar, with roots on the ground, especially among the poor, women and the minorities.

(However, the CPI (ML) candidate, Sudama Prasad, has won the the Ara Lok Sabha seat from BJP by defeating union minister and sitting MP RK Singh, while Raja Ram Singh has won in Karakat defeating Bhojpuri actor-cum-singer Pawan Singh. Both are typical ‘Liberation’ mass leaders with years of struggle and sacrifice on the ground – relentlessly fighting for the most marginalized sections in Bihar. In a scenario whereby, the RJD, despite a massive campaign by its leader, Tejeswi Yadav, did not fare well in the Bihar polls, the Left party would remain a formidable and trusted ally of the Mahagathbandan in Bihar in the days to come.)

As for Kalpana Soren, she has been a humble and invisible home-maker for almost 20 years, running a small school for children. Few would know that she has travelled widely, that she belonged to an army family, and that she is an engineer and a MBA. She speaks multiple languages, with a strong command over English, Hindi, Odia, and her native tongue, Santhali.

She took up the cause of neighbour and ally, Mamata Banerjee, when she addressed a Bengali crowd in a rally in her state, by ending with a sprinkling of Bengali. She ended her speech with a familiar and popular slogan in Bengal, coined by Banerjee: ‘Khela Hobe’. Indeed, the Bengal chief minister would be pleased by this display of bonhomie and solidarity by a woman leader, who was, till the other day, not known as an established politician.

In her first public meeting on May 28 at Giridih, Kalpana Soren, burst into tears. However, since then, she has gained tremendous confidence and has taken both her supporters and opponents by surprise. She addressed a massive public meeting at Ramlila Ground in Delhi, along with Sunita Kejriwal, wife of the jailed chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal. She shared the dias with stalwarts like Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav, Tejashwi Yadav, Priyanka Gandhi, Mallikarjun Kharge, Sitaram Yechury, and Dipankar Bhattacharya, among others.

Independent media portal, ‘eNewsroom’, based in Kolkata and Jharkhand, has reported: “From April 23 to May 30, she has done at least 50 public meetings as well as rallies. This does not include the meetings she has done for her ‘Gandey’ assembly constituency. From April 29, when she first filed her nomination, to May 18, she did at least 12 public meetings every day.”

A mother of two, she made her entry into mainstream politics on March 4, choosing the symbolic day of the founding of the JMM. And when she broke down in the middle of her speech, while talking of her husband, her party workers boosted her morale. They shouted in a chorus: “Jail ka taala tootega, Hemant Soren chootega.” (The lock of the jail will break; Hemant Soren will be freed.)

She replied, stoic and resolute: “Jharkhand jhukega nahi.” (Jharkhand will never bend.)

Indeed, since then, Kejriwal has called her ‘Rani of Jhansi’ and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has said that she is a symbol of ‘Nari Shakti’.

Her campaign speeches have been simple, lucid and emotive. She has connected easily with the audience who are well-versed with the political legacy of the Soren family. She would say, “I watched as Hemant faced problems and figured out solutions. So, in a sense, without even knowing, I was getting my training.”

Media portal ‘eNewsroom’ reports that she synchronized effectively by hitting the nail on the head in terms of the relentless witch-hunt being carried out by the BJP regime against opposition leaders. She joined the strategic move to highlight the continuous atrocities of the central agencies across the country, including in Jharkhand. “Senior JMM functionaries praised the political impact of her campaign. They said: “Kalpana hitting the campaign trail after her husband’s arrest, stirs up sentiments among the electorate.”

For instance in Koderma, she took on Narendra Modi, no holds barred! The prime minister was seeking a vote in the name of Annapurna Devi, the BJP candidate, using the typical polarizing discourse he has mastered during this campaign: infiltrators, Ram Mandir ‘pran pratishtha’ at Ayodhya, Naxalite politics, Jihad Vote, etc. Significantly, as has been the pattern, he sought votes, not for the BJP’s woman candidate, but in his own name. “For Kashi, I am not a prime minister, but an MP. And for the people of Koderma too, I will be your MP first. I want to tell you that you will vote for me for both PM and MP,” Modi declared.

Shahanawaz Akhter, editor of ‘eNewsroom’, reporting from the ground, wrote: “Just about 50 kilometers away, JMM leader and its star campaigner, Kalpana Soren, held a huge rally for INDIA candidate, Vinod Singh, and reminded the crowd that when he enters the Jharkhand Vidhan Sabha, people think, which will be new issue he will raise today? ‘He raises your voice strongly, stands with you, send him to the Parliament’.”

She said: “BJP is only interested in the minerals of Jharkhand. The centre has not paid Jharkhand’s Rs 1.36 lakh crore royalty amount. When Hemant Soren asked for it, they put him in jail.

With Modi winning by a meager margin in Varanasi, and with the BJP losing the mandate in the Lok Sabha polls of 2024, this feisty and fearless woman leader from Jharkhand, is bound to play a crucial political role, not only in her own tribal state, but across the country. Along with Mamata Banerjee, Priyanka Gandhi, Sunita Kejriwal, among other women leaders in the firmament, undoubtedly, she is a star rising in the eastern horizon of India. And with Hemant Soren in prison for an uncertain period, she is bound to become an integral part of the collective leadership of her own party, and that of the INDIA alliance, in the days to come.