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Veteran soldier vs brash challenger

Khunti, April 14: He’s a rare BJP sitting MP whose daughter cleans and sorts garlic in the backyard of his house in Anigara, 4km off Khunti sadar.

Party insiders call Karia Munda, 77, a breed apart. He’s been the deputy Speaker of the 15th Lok Sabha and a seven-time MP, but has no trappings of money or power.

But whether Karia retains Khunti this time is open to conjecture. Though a BJP stronghold and the pan-Indian NaMo wave should add to the goodwill, there’s a curious wind swirling on its dusty streets.

Phal ka tokri nikal jayega (the fruit basket will go ahead)”, go the whispers. Karia and the BJP lotus are locked in battle with Anosh Ekka’s fruit basket, the symbol of Jharkhand Party.

Khunti parliamentary seat is being seen as a face-off between Karia and Anosh, the Kolebira MLA, with the other notables Dayamani Barla (AAP) and Kalicharan Munda (Congress) being reduced to cameos among the total 16 candidates in fray.

At 44, Anosh is a colourful challenger to the staid Karia.

Anosh, facing disproportionate assets scam as a former minister in the Madhu Koda regime, is known as a flamboyant free spender and speaker.

It is only in Khunti Lok Sabha seat — with six Assembly constituencies of Khunti, Kharsawan, Kolebira, Simdega, Tamar and Torpa — where a BJP vehicle is a rare sight. It is Anosh’s wheels all the way.

This election, Anosh is also in the news for his alleged cosy equation with the banned outfit PLFI, something that has also attracted police attention. Outspoken Dayamani has complained to Election Commission about armed men stopping her supporters during campaigns.

Karia’s well-wishers seem uneasy. Speaking on the four diversions en route to his house due to under-construction culverts, an old woman with firewood on her head says: “It is not a good omen.”

Sushila Munda, 70-plus and wizened, elaborates on “mantriji” (that’s how Karia is known here) as being a “really good man”. But she says: “There are big tunnels dug on the main road. Coming out of home, when mantriji hits the road, his first encounter is with the excavated part of the road. It is not good.”

At Torpa block office, Karia is taking a break from a padyatra. Sitting under a tree, he says: “I am not worried. People know me, there is a Modi wave. It will see me through.”

The septuagenarian is also banking on youths. “They know what they want and they will vote with logic,” he said. “Voting will increase.”

He dismissed Anosh (“PLFI is a dust storm that will blow off, leaving everything clean”) and Kalicharan (“Congress can’t give a balanced economy”).

A widower, he lives with daughter Hesal (“the other one, Chandravati, is married”), sons Jagannath and Amar and daughter-in-law Waldani. It’s a modest home. Waldani brings glasses of water for The Telegraph team. Hesal works in the small backyard farm, digging out and sorting fresh garlic. Neither a party flag nor a symbol of affluence was visible.

When contacted, Anosh exuded confidence. “Jab aadmi kuch nahin sak raha hai, to mera naam PLFI se jod de raha hai,” he said over phone.

He boasts he has campaigned everywhere in his constituency. “Ask any person in any village and he will tell you he has seen me. I have walked through the entire area. At present, I can claim nobody knows Khunti constituency better than me. I have on my fingertips the condition of roads, schools and hospitals. I know what people need. I am concerned about people, but other candidates are concerned about me. Isn’t it funny?”

But ask a direct question — if Anosh has nothing to do with the PLFI, what steps will he take to uproot the rebel outfit if elected — and he parries. “I will do everything for development,” he said.

Both Karia and Anosh know Khunti’s vulnerabilities. Besides the PLFI grip, the under-developed district is a crime hotspot with 109 murders in 2013, including that of three businessmen.

Congress candidate Kalicharan, busy with padyatra in Khunti sadar today, did not address local issues, content to speak glowingly about Rahul Gandhi instead. “Rahulji humara netritwa kar rahe hain, is yuva pidi ke liye isse adhik achchhi baat kya ho sakti hai? (Rahul is leading us, what could be better for youngsters?)”

Khunti votes on April 17