Kameshwar Baitha (left) and VD Ram
Ranchi, March 24: What could have been a symbolic guns-blazing ballot battle in Palamau reserved SC seat between a former top cop-turned-MP hopeful and former-Maoist-turned-sitting MP-and-rival, is now lost in polite realpolitik.
BJP candidate V.D. Ram, former Jharkhand DGP, is pitted against sitting MP Kameshwar Baitha, a former central committee member of the banned CPI(Maoist), who moreover recently made news for leaving the JMM and joining the Trinamul Congress (TMC) in a huff over the JMM-Congress seat-sharing pact.
Both Ram and Baitha chose to downplay the police versus Maoist angle.
“It’s a different matter that I am a former police officer and the sitting MP is a former rebel. I do not want to go into those things,” Ram, a 1973 batch IPS, who retired as DGP in 2011, said.
Speak to Baitha and his response is identical. “Chunao mein sabhi candidate hain, yeh sab baatein nahin dekhi jaati (All are candidates in an election, these things are immaterial),” said the one-time Maoist and now the old MP on a new party ticket.
Insiders say the reason is clear. “Ram is perceived as an outsider in Palamau, so he won’t ruffle local feathers by reminding Baitha’s supporters about his past. Baitha, on the other hand, is fighting anti-incumbency, so he won’t go the face-off path, either,” one said.
Ram and Baitha are both more comfortable talking about their campaigns. “I am aggressively campaigning across Palamau-Garhwa. So far, response has been good,” Ram claimed, perhaps conscious of his elite CV in a dirt-poor region as well as the worry that traditional BJP voters might be more at ease with former party MP Brajmohan Ram.
Palamau Lok Sabha seat, with 16,27,015 voters, comprises Palamau and Garhwa districts with six underdeveloped and rebel-hit Assembly segments — Daltonganj, Bishrampur, Chhattarpur, Hussainabad, Garhwa and Bhawanathpur.
Baitha, who knows this well, is relying heavily on local jargon and sentiment. Calling the polling day “maha jan panchayat” — Palamau votes on April 10 — Baitha is hard-selling himself as the time-honoured garibon ka sachha saathi (true friend of the poor).
Shorn of JMM support, Baitha also needs to prove that Brand Baitha and not his former party won in 2009. “When I won in 2009, it was not due to the JMM,” he claimed. “I joined the TMC and people are convinced by the pro-poor ways of (Bengal chief minister and party chief) Mamata Banerjee. I will win as I am one of them,” he added.
The two other major players are RJD’s Manoj Kumar and JVM’s Ghuran Ram, both former MPs. Owing to state government coalition compulsions, the Congress was forced to wrest the Palamau seat from JMM — despite Baitha as the sitting MP, forcing him to change tracks — and hand it to the RJD.
On the RJD factor, Kumar’s supporter, S.P. Choubey of Garhwa, a teacher in a college managed by former RJD MLA of Bishrampur Ram Chandra Chandravanshi, told The Telegraph that their party chief Lalu Prasad’s charisma and pro-poor stand struck a chord.
“Garhwa has dilapidated roads, poor electricity but no one is concerned. Palamau, a little better, has seen the deterioration of Bishrampur road, an offshoot of NH-75, although it happens to be home of sitting MP Baitha. Strange are the workings here,” he said.
He added that RJD nominee Kumar, as the united candidate of the UPA, might get support from traditional JMM and Congress voters.
However, Kumar’s record is not free from blots. In 2006-07, his name cropped up in a cash-against-question episode of the Lok Sabha, when he lost his membership. A bypoll had to be held in 2007.
Present JVM nominee Ghuran Ram, who was then with the RJD, had won the 2007 bypoll.
With all major nominees having such fluid affiliations, individual charisma may play a big role. That’s why national leaders are throwing their weight behind their men. RJD boss Lalu convened two public meetings on March 23 in Bhavnathpur and Majhiaon, both in Garhwa, under Palamau Lok Sabha constituency. BJP’s prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit Palamau on April 2, barely a week before it goes to polls.
Amid the big boys, Garhwa resident Sushma Mehta, a nominee of CPI (ML), is seen as a low-key contestant. A former chairperson of Garhwa Zila Parishad, she and her driver were taken captive by Maoists last year and later released.