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BJP targets 14 but spoilers lurk

Good days are coming, promises a Narendra Modi hoarding on Harmu Road, Ranchi’s main thoroughfare that connects the town with the Assembly, the airport and Dhurwa, the venue of a new stadium that has put the Jharkhand capital on the country’s cricket map.

The promise has found resonance in a state that has two new acquisitions to flaunt, after being a nobody’s child for years since it was carved of Bihar 13 years ago. The swanky stadium that hosted Ranchi’s first international match in 2013 is one and a new airport terminal, also opened last year, the other.

Modi, who is looking for a clean sweep of Jharkhand’s 14 seats, has addressed eight rallies already. In 2009, with no talk of a wave, the BJP had won eight seats but lost one two years later in a bypoll held after Arjun Munda vacated his Lok Sabha seat upon becoming chief minister.

Today he is no longer chief minister, unseated by one-time ally Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, which has teamed up with the Congress and the RJD to form a government headed by Hemant Soren, son of JMM patriarch Shibu Soren.

Munda is leading the BJP campaign in the state. Modi looks determined, addressing rallies every other day and trying to whip up a frenzy for change that none in the opposing camp has succeeded in countering.

But Mamata Banerjee and a few regional satraps testing the waters for the next Assembly elections have injected an uncertainty.

Bahut vote katwa khade hog aye (Many spoilers are in the fray),” warns Ranchi’s sitting MP, Subodh Kant Sahay of the Congress, as he addresses workers of Heavy Engineering Corporation (HEC), a 55-year-old PSU that is now out of the red with the Centre’s intervention.

In logo se aap bachke rehna (stay clear of these spoilers),” he adds, referring to the Trinamul candidate Bandhu Tirkey, an Independent MLA who switched sides to muddy the waters in Ranchi.

Together with Chamra Linda, another Independent MLA fighting for Mamata’s party in Chatra, Tirkey holds the key to the survival of the Hemant Soren government, now on life support from 40 MLAs in a House of 79.

Add two more regional parties. Sudhesh Mahto, a one-time deputy chief minister and perhaps the state’s wiliest politician, has joined the fray with his All Jharkhand Students Union (Ajsu), threatening to eat into Sahay’s Kurmi-Mahto votebank. Then there is Amitabh Choudhary of the Babulal Marandi-led Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM).

“I am the best. My record speaks for itself,” says Chaudhary, pointing to the cricket stadium he built as the boss of Jharkhand State Cricket Association.

Residents of upscale Morabadi do not hide their appreciation for a man who was able to “get things done”.

The BJP’s Ram Tahal Choudhary, Sahay’s arch-rival, is hoping the NaMo wave will see him and the other 13 party candidates through. “Help us install a government headed by Narendra Modi,” he tells residents at Kamala Khatal in the HEC area.

It’s BJP vs Congress vs JVM vs Ajsu and TMC in Ranchi.

Ranchi mirrors the BJP’s discomfort index in Jharkhand. Every seat is a multi-cornered contest and no one is sure, not even the BJP in the ones it holds.

A 58 per cent turnout in the four Maoist-infested constituencies that voted on April 10 has given the BJP hope of retaining Lohardaga and wresting Palamau and Koderma. Among the six seats that go to polls on April 17, it hopes to retain Hazaribagh, where Yashwant Sinha’s Harvard-alumnus son Jayant is the candidate. But the battle is tough in Ranchi and Jamshedpur.

“I have never felt such uncertainty surrounding Lok Sabha elections,” says Amitabha Chatterjee, a retired LIC employee and Ranchi resident of over five decades. “A lot of money and too many candidates have muddied everyone’s prospects.”