Ajsu’s Ranchi nominee Sudesh Mahto with party workers in Ranchi on Monday. (Prashant Mitra)
Sudesh Mahto is a dangerous dark horse for his party.
On the one hand, the Ajsu chief’s run from Ranchi makes him a single-step stairway to national politics if he pulls off a surprise victory. On the other hand, it risks the party’s leverage in state politics and the imminent Assembly polls if he happens to lose to heavyweights like sitting Congress MP Subodh Kant Sahay, BJP veteran Ram Tahal Choudhary and JVM nominee Amitabh Choudhary.
In short, the very survival of Ajsu now depends on how its chief performs in the Lok Sabha elections.
The start has been positive though. Sudesh’s very presence in the electoral battlefield of Ranchi has disturbed carefully crafted strategies of his opponents.
Once a trusted ally of the BJP — the Ajsu has been a part of every BJP government in the state — Sudesh has left his erstwhile mentors seething by sinking his teeth deep into the chunky Mahto vote bank. Had he not been in the fray, the loyalty would have nicely swayed in favour of Ram Tahal, also an established leader of the community. No wonder the angry old man has dubbed him a “Congress dummy”.
The JVM is frowning too. It is seeing Sudesh as a revenge-seeker trying to settle old scores with Amitabh because the latter humiliated him in the Jharkhand State Cricket Association (JSCA) polls.
Shyam Sunar Ojha, the vice-president of Ajsu’s intellectual forum, conceded that the battle for Ranchi was like a Mahto war of supremacy. “The opinion isn’t totally wrong. We are hopeful of bagging at least 70 per cent of Mahto votes. (Ram Tahal) Choudharyji did nothing for the community except for opening schools and colleges in his name. The trading community is with us. People are joining us voluntarily,” he claimed.
Confidence unwavering, Sudesh is the only star campaigner of Ajsu, addressing rallies in far-flung areas for other party candidates. On Monday, he was seen on a gruelling morning-to-evening routine in Garu, Latehar. He returned to Ranchi thereafter to join a procession of a thousand men, women and even children carrying Ajsu flags.
“Do you think I am kidding here (in the election)? Should I reply to absurd allegations (read Congress dummy)? I am in the fray to raise in Parliament Jharkhand’s voice, which has always remained unheard. Mere election fight karne se itna hangama kyun (Why this hullabaloo over my contesting the election)?” he retorts when prodded on the reason behind his hectic campaigns.
The Monday procession started from the central election office and covered a sizeable part of the capital. Flamboyant as Sudesh is known to be, the Ajsu campaign was full of “tamasha”. At least 20 drummers, many of them very young, were part of the rally. Like the BJP, which is distributing Modi masks, the Ajsu handed out Sudesh cut-outs as the six megaphone-fitted campaign vehicles blared parodies.
The Ajsu has hired the sprawling Manya Palace in Morabadi prime to set up its “central election office” where strategies are drawn up, discussed and debated.
A section of party workers are sanguine of Ajsu’s win.
“Sudeshji is popular in Silli (Assembly seat) and our Naveen Jaiswal is representing Hatia (Assembly seat). Besides, we have a strong base in Ichagarh. We will become a force in Ranchi. Youths are with us. We are fighting for Jharkhand’s special status. People want change,” said Ashutosh, a supporter.
Whether he wins or loses, there is no denying that Sudesh has made Ranchi an unpredictable seat even for seasoned political observers. “He is not a case of summary rejection on the election chessboard,” said one of them.