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Caste card at play
- Sudhir and Aastik Mahto vie for Kurmi votes

Jamshedpur, June 20: Friends have turned foes in the scramble for the all-important Kurmi votes, which could make or break the fortunes of candidates in the Jamshedpur by-election fray.

The main race for Kurmi votes is between JMM’s Sudhir Mahto and Ajsu’s Aastik Mahto. Once friends, the Mahtos cannot denounce each other enough now for splitting the caste votes in the rural segments of the constituency.

While Sudhir is keen to take advantage of JMM’s strong base among Kurmi voters, Aastik is pinning on his hopes on his image as a new but formidable Mahto leader. With D-day not too far away, both nominees are now engaged in a war of words.

Aastik hamen barbaad karne par tule hua hain. Woh gaonwalon se kahta phir rahan hain ki bhale Ajsu ko vote mat do lekin JMM ko bhi mat do (Aastik is bent on ruining me. He is telling villagers it does not matter if they don’t vote for his party but they should not vote for the JMM either),” said Sudhir, admitting he was worried about the vote split.

Yeh sab Sudesh (Mahto) ki chaal hain. Woh pradesh mein Kurmi logo ka neta banna chahta hain (All this is a game of Sudesh Mahto. He wants to become a Kurmi leader in Jharkhand),” Sudhir added.

The JMM candidate’s apprehension is based on his rival’s presence in the four rural Assembly segments — Ghatshila, Potka, Baharagora and Jugsalai. To keep Aastik’s influence at bay and to check vote splitting, the JMM has deputed all senior leaders to campaign in the rural belt.

Former MLA Dulal Bhuiyan has been especially asked to look after Patamda (in Jugsalai Assembly segment) block — a strong Kurmi base, while party legislators Ramdas Soren and Bidyut Baran Mahto have been given charge of Ghatshila and Baharagora, respectively.

There are over 1.5 lakh Kurmi voters in the Jamshedpur parliamentary constituency.

Aastik, who recently quit JMM along with four other district leaders, said he was not contesting the by-election to spoil anybody’s propects. “Main to upchunav jitne ke liye lad rahan hoon (I am contesting to win the bypoll),” he said, rubbishing Sudhir’s allegations that he was out to ruin him.

Sudhir’s fears notwithstanding, poll analysts said it would not be easy for Aastik to split Kurmi votes.

“JMM is an old party with a strong base among Kurmis. In comparison, Ajsu is new and is yet to make inroads into Kurmi votes. It is not easy to change the mindset of voters,” said Shailendra Mahto, a former JMM MP from Jamshedpur.

BYPOLL BATTLE

Kurmi voters are being wooed again and are set to play an important role in the Jamshedpur by-elections

• The numbers: 1.5lakh
• Strongholds: Ghatshila, Potka, Baharagora and Jugsalai
• Main suitors: Sudhir Mahto and Aastik Mahto
• Expertspeak: JMM has an edge, but Ajsu will eat away some Kurmi votes

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