It’s camel campaign on Harmu Road, Ranchi, for the FJCCI election on Sunday and (right) a member casts his vote at Marwari Bhavan. Pictures by Hardeep Singh
A growing sense of insecurity was palpable among 1,700-odd small and big businessmen who thronged Marwari Bhavan in Harmu, Ranchi, from 10am on Sunday.
The occasion was the annual election of the Federation of Jharkhand Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FJCCI) for filling up 21 posts, including that of president and secretary. The apprehension was spurred by the fatal gun assault on fellow businessman Sushil Kejriwal (not Sushil Tibrewal as reported earlier) on Saturday evening.
On the one hand, candidates in the fray were seen trying to garner last-minute support by distributing pamphlets and sweets or adding personal touch to the polls by hugging young voters and touching the feet of elderly ones. On the other hand, the polling station reverberated with myriad concerns of lawlessness in Ranchi and Jharkhand, which has witnessed a spurt in recent times.
Kejriwal was hit by two bullets on his way to his Ratu Road home from his plastic factory in Tatisilwai, 14km away, around 8pm. The 45-year-old died on his way to hospital.
The gruesome murder has understandably intensified fears in the capital’s business circuit and members plan to submit a memorandum to the DGP on Monday.
“Ab bahar nikalna hi mushkil ho gaya hai. (Venturing out is no longer safe now),” a member waiting in the queue for his turn to vote was overheard saying to another. “Prashashan kuch hone ke baad hi jaagti hai. (The administration wakes up only after a mishap),” the other replied.
As the hours passed by, conversations like this were heard from every corner of the polling station. Fear gradually made way for anger and many were also heard deploring the capital’s shoddy citizen safety mechanism.
“The business fraternity strongly condemns yesterday’s incident. It is also a matter of serious concern the way the crime graph is going north in recent times. We feel highly insecure,” said G.S. Sharma, a chamber member.
Eye specialist Dr Bharti Kashyap, contesting from Kishore Mantri-Vinay Sarawgi outfit, said it was high time police took their job seriously. “Why would any businessman have to cough up extortion money in the first place? He, like everyone else, pays taxes. Unfortunately, the government has time and again failed to offer a safe environment for business in the state,” she said.
At a time when Jharkhand is pitching itself as a land of commerce, incidents like the one on Saturday could push the state towards an economic crisis, she pointed out.
“Honestly speaking, no one is feeling upbeat today because of the current law and order situation in Jharkhand, particularly in capital Ranchi. The government should realise the importance of the business community. If traders pull out of the state, government coffers will stop jingling,” Kashyap added.
Sanjay Seth, a former FJCCI president, said since the annual election had already been scheduled, it could not be deferred. “However, the proceedings were suspended for half an hour from 1pm to pay respects to our departed colleague. Many of us took part in Sushil Kejriwal’s funeral procession in the afternoon and then returned here,” he said.
After the polling, a condolence meeting was also held at Marwari Bhavan. It was decided that all the 2,400 members would assemble at the FJCCI office at 4.30pm on Monday. They will then meet DGP G.S. Rath and hand over a memorandum seeking better security in the capital.
Seth added that the polling was conducted peacefully with 1,717 members casting their votes by 4pm. Results are expected late on Sunday.