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Independents to split Cong votes

- High-command ‘rebuff’ turns loyalists into challengers

Ranchi, March 23: Not too long ago they used to dance to Congress tunes though they were neither MLAs nor allies of the grand old party. But, as second fiddle to the Congress, they could make or break a ruling combine.

That was then. This Lok Sabha poll, four MLAs of Jharkhand Assembly Bandhu Tirkey (Mandar), Chamra Linda (Bishunpur), Anosh Ekka (Kolebira) and Geeta Koda (Jaganathpur), arguably Congress protégés, will fight from those very parliamentary constituencies where the prestige of the national party is at stake in Jharkhand, splitting ‘secular’ votes in the bargain.

Tirkey and Linda, who recently merged their small entities with Trinamul Congress (TMC), will contest from Ranchi and Lohardaga seats. Ekka is the Jharkhand Party candidate from Khunti, while Koda is contesting from Singhbhum as Jai Bharat Samanta Party nominee, a seat retained by her husband and former Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda.

The Congress fielded sitting MP Subodh Kant Sahay in Ranchi, former MP Rameshwar Oraon in Lohardaga, and former MLAs Kalicharan Munda and Chitrasen Sinku in Khunti and Singhbhum, respectively.

The Congress, which spent a lot of time perfecting its Lok Sabha seat-sharing strategy with state-level allies JMM and the RJD, ironically got Ranchi, Lohardaga, Khunti and Singhbhum — as part of its final nine. These apart, the Congress kept Chatra, Godda, Hazaribagh, Dhanbad and Koderma for itself and gave the JMM four seats — Dumka, Rajmahal, Jamshedpur and Giridih — parting with one, Palamau, for the RJD.

Though no Congressman is coming on record to say so, insiders feel the quartet of ‘Independent challengers’, even without winning, will reduce Congress votes, the profiles of Muslim, Christian and tribal supporters being similar. “Their presence will make the battle multi-cornered. They have a share in secular votes, which doesn’t augur well for the Congress. Even a swing of one or two per cent votes will be decisive,” said one.

Except Ekka, three of them — Tirkey, Linda and Koda — had tried to join the Congress in the recent past, which for the most part, had firm backing of pradesh (state) Congress bosses.

Central Congress bosses snubbed them.

Tirkey, who in the past swore his allegiance with the UPA, smarted over the Congress high command rebuff.

“Congress ne hum jaise MLA ki kabhi izzat nahin ki. Delhi se lekar Ranchi tak dhutkar hi mila. Is baar unt ko apne unchai ka pata chalega (Congress never respected MLAs like us, we were scorned from Delhi to Ranchi. Now, the camel will know its height),” Tirkey, who had sizeable hold over Muslim, tribal and Christian voters, said sarcastically.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress managed to keep Tirkey out from the Ranchi fray. Tirkey even lent crucial support to Subodh Kant Sahay who narrowly scraped past BJP nominee Ram Tahal Choudhary. Now, Tirkey will contest both Sahay and Choudhary in Ranchi.

Linda’s candidature in Lohardaga somewhat damages the prospects of Congress nominee Rameswar Oraon. Linda, once a firebrand student leader, is vocal supporter of the Sarna Code movement in the tribal heartland.

Koda, who will lock horns with Congressman Sinku in Singhbhum, said: “Earlier, Congress state unit asked me to join the party. Then, probably, some people in the Congress leaders considered me unfit and useless. Now, it is for voters to decide if I have some worth.”