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Religion obscures real issues in Chhotanagpur

Gumla, Dec. 9: In the tribal heartland of Chhotanagpur, comprising the three Assembly constituencies of Gumla, Sisai and Bishunpur, issues such as migration of villagers, livelihood and Naxalism are playing minor role in the elections. Instead, the candidates have chosen to concentrate on political affiliations and religious sentiments to mobilise votes.

The ideologies of the two main rival political parties — BJP and Congress — had two kinds of impact on the same community, the tribals who seem to be deciding the voting pattern. The seats will go to polls in the fourth phase on December 12.

The trend is most prominent in Bishunpur and Sisai. In Gumla too, the big fight is based on party and religious affiliations though development issues are being talked about, thanks to the fact that JMM’s sitting MLA Bhushan Tirkey is a strong contender for the second term.

“I have worked in the region for the past 25 years. I am sure to win,” said Bhikhari Bhagat, the BJP candidate from Bishunpur. Sitting MLA Chandresh Oraon has been denied a ticket by the BJP this time. Though the tribal vote bank of this region traditionally belonged to the Congress, a good portion of the electorate became diehard supporters of the BJP in the last two decades for welfare works undertaken by organisations affiliated to the party.

However, a section of votes continue to support the Congress. This apart, the tribal Christian vote bank has traditionally remained non-BJP, usually with the Congress.

In Bishunpur, though there are 16 candidates in all, the main contest is between Bhagat and Chamra Linda, the Adivasi Chatra Sangh leader contesting on a Rashtriya Kalyan Paksha ticket. Traditional Congress voters, including Christians, seem to be inclined towards Linda.

“If I win, my priority will be to ensure a separate Sarna religious code in the census,” said Linda. He also claimed the support of Christian and Muslim voters, apart from Sadans — original inhabitants of the place.

Former HRD minister Bandhu Tirkey too is contesting from this seat. But, he visited the area only once.

In Sisai, the Congress has fielded Geeta Shree Oraon, the daughter-in-law of veteran tribal leader Bandi Oraon. She also happens to be the daughter of former popular Congress leader Kartik Oraon. On top of it, voters do not appear happy with the performance of BJP candidate and sitting MLA Samir Oraon. Ajsu’s Deo Saran Bhagat, too, has carved out a vote bank for himself.

A former Naxalite area commander, Sufal Oraon is also contesting from this seat and may disturb the voting pattern. “The Naxalites are asking voters to vote for Oraon or face the consequences,” said a villager of Bharno.

Sitting MLA and JMM candidate from Gumla Bhushan Tirkey seems to be comfortable. The BJP has fielded Kamlesh Oraon, the son of a former Jan Sangh leader and two-time MLA Ropna Oraon. The Congress is banking on Joy Fredric Baxla, a little known self-styled social worker.

“Our MLA was with us even when a dog bit our sons and daughters. We are going to send him back to the Assembly,” said Munna Khan, a resident of Gumla Thana Road.

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