JVM leader and sitting MP Ajoy Kumar greets contract workers at Tata Steel’s powerhouse gate in Jugsalai on Friday. Picture by Bhola Prasad
As the clock strikes 7.10am on Friday, a pleasant surprise greets the long queue of contract workers on cycles at Tata Steel powerhouse gate No. 3 gate near Jugsalai.
“Kya haal hai boss, sab thik hai na (How are you, is everything okay),” sitting Jamshedpur MP Ajoy Kumar, dressed in classic blue jeans and a white shirt, a light green comb (the JVM symbol) peeking from its front pocket, extends a friendly hand.
Immediately, a dozen hands outstretch towards the 51-year-old MP who is fighting for re-election.
“Kanghi chhap yaad rakhna dost, vote dene zarur jana (remember the comb symbol, friend, cast your vote),” Kumar, shaking hands and doing the occasional namaste to women contract workers, said.
“Sir, aap jeet rahen hain, hum log aapko bhule nahin hain (Sir, you are winning, we haven’t forgotten you),” Sushil Kerai of Harharguttu beamed.
Kumar’s strategy of maximum interaction in minimum time is a success. This Tata Steel gate sees nearly 8,000 contract workers in the morning, the highest among three entry points for them.
As Kumar exchanged pleasantries, JVM workers distributed party leaflets and visiting cards. A campaign vehicle blared JVM poll songs.
An MBBS who made the transition to being an IPS officer, the former SP between 1994 and 1996 who weeded out goons and made Jamshedpur safe, Kumar reached heights of popularity no policeman in recent memory could. Switching over to the corporate fast lane — Kumar continues to be the CEO of Delhi-based Max Neeman International, a drug research knowledge process outsourcing company — he surprised many when he contested the 2011 bypoll in Jamshedpur on a JVM ticket.
In a traditional BJP stronghold, Kumar won by a record 1.5 lakh margin votes.
Two-and-a-half years later, how does he hope to fare in the NaMo wave? “You see, Narendra Modi’s visit (in Jamshedpur on Thursday) recharged our own party workers. We don’t pay our boys money or refuel vehicles. Yet, they are with us from morning till night,” Kumar said.
On his way to Chunna Bhatta, an urban shanty in Jugsalai, the MP waved to people who called out his name or stopped their vehicles for a better look or a handshake.
At Chunna Bhatta, resident Aftab Mallik said: “Sir, yahan paani jam jata hai par peene ka paani ka koi vyavastha nahin hai (We get flash floods every monsoon and yet have no drinking water).”
Kumar said: “Itne din kyon nahin bataya. Abhi election hai main jhoota vaada nahin karunga. Election ke baad aayiye, baith kar iska samadhan nikalenge (Why didn’t you complain earlier? It’s election time, I don’t want to give false promises. After this, we will sit together for a solution).”
At 8.20am, the MP left on his SUV for MGM rural area (Jugsalai Assembly segment) comprising nine panchayats of Turiabera, Deogarh, Edalbera, Bhillaipahari, Bara Banki, Palasboni, Pipla, Beco and Belajhuri.
“You see, it’s like the tale of two cities. In Jamshedpur, you get good roads, power and water. But, 20-30km away, you hardly find a water tap or good roads,” Kumar said.
Kumar’s strategy managers have done their homework. In 2011, urban voters backed Kumar for his supercop image but rural electorate cast their franchise only after JVM chief Babulal Marandi campaigned among tribals.
Now, Kumar is embracing the rural electorate.
Marandi also started campaigning in Jamshedpur’s rural belt since Thursday.
“In 2011, you voted for my image as SP. In 2014, I request you to vote for me for our work. The campaign schedule has been drawn in a manner that time is devoted equally to rural (read Jugsalai, Ghatshila, Potka and Ghatshila Assembly segments) and urban (read Jamshedpur East and West) areas,” Kumar, sitting pillion on a bike at Bhillaipahari, said.
MGM rural area is a BJP bastion but Jugsalai constituency in which it falls elected Ramchandra Sahis of Ajsu in 2009 by a slender margin of 7,000 votes. “There are 24,000 voters in nine panchayats. If we can woo Santhal and Bhumij communities, we can dent the BJP vote bank,” said JVM veteran Ramesh Singh Sardar in MGM rural area.
Kumar, on his part, wants to break the ice with villagers with his trademark “personal interaction”. With workers, he bikes to villages in all nine panchayats in MGM rural area, spanning over 70km.
Yahan par peene ka pani, road aur khet ke liye seechai ka samasya hai. In par thoda dhyan dijiye (Roads, drinking water and irrigation are problems, please give them a thought),” Vijay Munda, Deogarh mukhiya, told the MP.
“If elected we will open MP offices at each block to address your problems,” Kumar said.
The campaign winds up at MGM rural areas at 3.30pm. But Kumar has his symbolic running shoes on. Campaign goes on in Kadma, Telco and Shastrinagar till late evening.