|(From top) Villagers climb a tree to catch a glimpse of Shibu Soren’s helicopter (not in picture) as it arrives at Palojori, 65km from Dumka, on Monday. The sitting JMM MP addressed a rally at Sidho-Kanhu High School grounds, while his JVM rival Babulal Marandi (below), at his party office in Dumka, also spent the day campaigning. Pictures by Pankaj Singh
Dumka, April 21: In the high-stakes battle between two former chief ministers in Dumka, the war of words between JVM’s Babulal Marandi and JMM’s Shibu Soren has reached fever pitch.
Marandi, who is back in Santhal Pargana after 15 years, believes it is the right time to challenge Soren’s supremacy in the region, while the JMM patriarch is putting his all in a campaign to reassert his party’s supremacy in what is largely known to be their pocket borough.
Marandi believes the JMM has been the main obstacle in the development of the backward region. “JMM has never pursued issue based politics... it has always compromised on issues due to immediate gains. This has affected Jharkhand’s development,” he tells The Telegraph before setting out for campaigning.
Marandi was MP from Dumka in 1998 and 1999, a time when RSS had built a strong presence to counter the rising influence of Christian missionaries among local tribals.
Now, the scenario has changed. Marandi, no longer with the BJP, realises that his party, the JVM, needs the support of Christian minorities. As a result, he has already inducted Stephen Marandi while efforts are on to rope in disgruntled Simon Marandi in neighbouring Rajmahal.
“I am getting support from a cross section of society. Development is the main poll plank in Dumka and the entire Santhal Pargana region (which covers Lok Sabha constituencies of Dumka, Rajmahal and Godda). There is no good hospital or higher education institution. JMM has done nothing for the development of the area,” he insists.
But JMM dismisses his claim.
“We are watching Marandi’s every move. Yet we don’t know why is contesting the seat when he is nowhere in the race,” says Soren’s son Hemant, his confidence stemming from the JMM’s undeniable position of advantage in the region — five out of six Assembly segments of Dumka Lok Sabha constituency is represented by the JMM.
Hemant suspects Marandi has an agenda, ie, help the BJP by eating into the JMM’s votes. His intentions, said the chief minister, would be clear soon.
“Jharkhand ki rajniti Dumka se shuru aur khatam bhi hoti hai” (Politics in Jharkhand starts from DumkaÖ and ends from here too),” he says before setting out to campaign from his home in Khijuria.
Soren Sr is canvassing like never before. Ramesh Hansda, one of the primary functionaries of the JMM here, will vouch for that.
Today, Soren Sr addressed a crowd of 4,000 Santhals, Muslims and Bangla-speaking residents at a public rally in Sarath at Sidho-Kanhu High School, Palojori, around 3 pm under a blazing sun.
He spoke in Santhali. “Don’t consume alcohol, educate your children and preserve the rich mineral resources of the region,” Misir Hansra, a Palojori resident, translates the JMM chief’s speech that is immediately welcomed by the gathering who start beating their dugdugi (a drum, smaller than the traditional nagada).
Between the two war horses, BJP’s Sunil Soren is trying his best to stay in the running. “Do badon ki ladai mein BJP ko faida ho sakta hai (In the fight between two big guns, the BJP could end up being the gainer),” Dumka’s local lad hopes.
Senior BJP leader Louis Marandi, many in the party feel, would have been a better contender this time. But, Sunil’s supporters cite the narrow margin of Soren Sr’s victory against him in 2009.
If Sunil polled around 1.90 lakh votes, Soren Sr emerged victorious with over 2.08 lakh votes, a lead of 18,000.
Dumka votes on April 24