Villagers attack the vehicle of Manna Singh, son of JVM candidate Samresh Singh, in Bokaro on Monday. Picture by Pankaj Singh
Bokaro, April 7: Babulal Marandi once again ended up disappointing voters today when he failed to turn up at an election rally at Pachaura village, about 6km from Bokaro steel city, because of other engagements.
The missed opportunity, however, came as a blessing in disguise for the JVM chief, who would otherwise have been greeted by black flags or angry slogans, as a large section of the 1,000-strong comprised youths who have decided to boycott the Lok Sabha polls in protest against lack of welfare schemes in their areas.
The protesters — hailing from Pachaura, Kunauri, Shibutand, Bastidih, Belmamar, Tirahi, Tirahi Mahua, Agaddi, Maheshpur, Mohanpur and eight other villages falling within a 40km radius of Bokaro steel city — are descendants of those displaced by the steel plant project, but refused to shift elsewhere.
They came to the rally, convened by JVM’s Dhanbad candidate Samresh Singh, to vent their grievances and later even attacked a car belonging to Singh’s son while it was returning from the venue.
“Whenever we go to any government official for any work related to the development of our villages or welfare schemes, we are told to get our demands forwarded by the mukhiya. But the reality is that we don’t fall under any panchayat and instead figure on the voter list of Bokaro Assembly constituency. If we cannot avail any government benefit, then what’s the use of voting?” questioned Arvind Kumar, one of the protesters seeking an audience with Marandi, who was supposed to come at 11am.
Another youth Vijay Mahto added that they had met former deputy commissioner Sunil Kumar in December 2012, apprising him of their problems. “He had promised to look into our grievances and forward our demands to the state headquarters, but nothing was done,” he complained.
Unable to make the authorities heed to their demands, representatives of around 30,000 residents of the villages, which fall under Dhanbad Lok Sabha seat, met on Sunday night and decided that they would not take part in the electoral process unless their demands were met.
“We want our villagers to be brought under the panchayat system and election held along with other villages, implementation of government projects and jobs in Bokaro steel plant. Only then we will vote,” said another youth.
The demands, however, appear somewhat untenable as technically, the youths are settlers forcibly occupying land belonging to Bokaro steel, which had acquired the plots in question during establishment of the steel plant in the 60s. The steel major, which had offered monetary compensation at the time of acquiring the land, had given jobs to over 14,000, almost double the figure on the displaced list.
But as years passed by, the sons and grandsons of those displaced started demanding jobs too.
At present, the job-seeker count stands at 24,000.
Samresh Singh said his party boss could not make it to the venue because of a crucial meeting in Koderma. “But I can assure you that our party boss will come and speak to you soon,” the 70-year-old Bokaro MLA promised.
Later, some of the displaced mounted an attack on a SUV belonging to Singh’s elder son Sidhartha.
However, neither Singh Senior nor Siddhartha was in the car in which JVM supporter Manto Soren was travelling. Soren received no injuries.
Asked whether they would lodge a police complaint, Siddhartha said over phone: “They (the protesting youths) are like my family. All the villages falling in this zone support my father. I will not lodge any complaint against them, but will win them over.”
Coming back to Marandi giving poll rallies a miss, a few days ago, the JVM leader was similarly unable at address a meeting in favour of Giridih candidate Saba Ahmad at Jaridih, 14km from Bokaro.
But on that occasion, JVM poll managers and not the chief were to be blamed for the goof-up. Marandi had turned up at the venue via a chopper, but Bermo SDO Rahul Kumar Sinha did not allow the meeting as no prior permission was taken from the district administration.
Dhanbad votes on April 24