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War of Titans in tribal heart

- Highest stakes in Santhal Pargana

Ranchi, April 20: Jharkhand’s largest chunk of 10 Lok Sabha seats have voted on April 10 and 17, but the state is saving its juiciest battle — Santhal Pargana — for its last poll round on April 24, its results to manifest the clout of regional strongmen Shibu Soren and Babulal Marandi in a NaMo year.

Three Santhal Pargana seats of Dumka, Godda and Rajmahal will vote in what appears to be a decisive three-cornered battle among the BJP, the UPA with JMM as its key player and regional power JVM that looks forward to upset the apple-cart of national parties.

Stakes are high for the BJP and the UPA — JMM-Congress-RJD combine — in Jharkhand. The UPA claims it has the impregnable phalanx of Muslim, tribal, backward and Harijan votes, while the BJP is banking on the NaMo wave, particularly after Narendra Modi’s Basukinath rally in Dumka on April 15.

Santhal Pargana was once a JMM bastion and springboard for Shibu Soren’s statehood movement and drives against moneylenders.

Now, its fractured loyalties are mirrored by who holds its three Lok Sabha seats — BJP two and JMM one — and 18 Assembly ones (JMM 11, BJP and JVM two each and JVM and Congress, RJD and an Independent one each).

But in Dumka, the fight between two former chief ministers — sitting Dumka MP and JMM boss Shibu Soren (as a UPA candidate) and one-time protégé and now arch-rival Babulal Marandi — has all the makings of a regional epic.

Both the men know their personal cult is at stake.

Here, the BJP has fielded Sunil Soren, former Jama MLA, who lost to father-in-law Shibu in the Lok Sabha and daughter-in-law Sita in Vidhan Sabha polls. A third player, the BJP camp is still optimistic about Sunil. “Dekhiye, kabhi kabhi do maharathi ki ladai me tisra nikal jata hai (Sometimes, in a fight between two Titans, a third person wins),” a BJP leader quipped.

Marandi’s right-hand man, MLA Pradeep Yadav is fighting from Godda and is likely to garner Yadav votes. But, Godda sitting MP of the BJP Nishikant Dubey, fighting Yadav and Congress candidate Furqan Ansari, is banking heavily on NaMo.

Nishikant, who got a jolt in JD(U)’s Brahmin challenger Rajbardhan Azad, son of former Bihar chief minister Bhagwat Jha Azad, assiduously buried past differences with BJP’s Deoghar strongman Bablu Khawade to strengthen his position. In 2009, before Khawade joined BJP, he was an Ajsu MP hopeful from Godda and a sworn Nishikant enemy. Nishikant is also tapping Jarmundi’s Independent MLA Harinarayan Rai for votes from the Khetori community.

In Rajmahal, it’s an interrelated twist running through BJP, JMM and Congress camps. The BJP replaced sitting MP Devidhan Besra with new recruit Hemlal Murmu as MP hopeful. Murmu joined the BJP after leaving his 30-year-old association with the JMM to protest the party’s decision to poach Youth Congress leader Vijay Hansda and give the youngster the Rajmahal ticket. Sulking Besra, whom the BJP denied a ticket, hardly campaigned for Murmu, which has party bosses such as Arjun Munda worried.

Also, Murmu was the JMM’s MP hopeful in 2009 polls in Rajmahal, but lost to the BJP mainly because Vijay’s late father and senior Congressman Thomas Hansda ate into his vote bank.

Vijay, fighting BJP’s Murmu and the NaMo wave, dismissed both. “Only Shibu Soren is a factor here. Such (NaMo) waves are projected and inflated,” he said.

Murmu rebutted quickly. “Had he (Vijay) seen Modi’s rally in Basukinath last week, he would have seen the NaMo impact. Why has voter turnout in Jharkhand increased in comparison with 2009 general elections? Because people want a change. And you know, the man who has given the call for change across the country is Narendra Modi,” he said.

* Dumka, Godda, Rajmahal and Dhanbad vote on April 24


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