Koderma, Nov. 3: He was the first member of a Scheduled Tribe to win a “general” seat in the Lok Sabha in 2004. Babulal Marandi resigned and vacated the seat after he decided to quit the party and is now engaged in a fierce battle for political survival in the byelection slated for Monday.
Unlike in 2004, Marandi this time is pitted against both the BJP and Congress. The former chief minister is taking on the Congress’s Manoj Yadav and the BJP’s Pranav Verma.
The two national parties, he holds, are indifferent to Jharkhand and its people and only a new and regional third front represented by him holds out hope for political stability and development in the state.
The result, expected on November 11, will show whether he has been able to sell this message to the electorate; or whether the electorate reposes faith in the old order. If he manages to pip both the BJP and Congress, it will be a turning point in state politics and a giant and heady victory for him. A defeat would force him to start again from square one.
A veteran of many elections, Marandi has made winning into a hobby of sorts and won a historic election in 1998 by defeating Shibu Soren in the JMM chief’s bastion of Dumka.
Veteran Congress MP and tribal leader Bagun Sumbrui agrees with the assessment. “If he wins in the Koderma bypoll, he will create a bigger history. Fighting as an Independent, he is taking on national parties — Congress and BJP — holding them responsible for the spell of instability and misrule in the state,” he exclaimed.
The Congress veteran’s observations are not off the mark. The first Jharkhand chief minister promises a “new era” in the state by selling the idea to “disown” both the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
“I left the BJP for Jharkhand. The BJP did not care for the state. And now the Congress is doing the same by installing a farcical Madhu Koda government that can tumble any time. Jharkhand needs a leader and a party dedicated to the state,” Marandi asserts in his election campaigns, as he criss-crosses the constituency.
The sprawling Lok Sabha constituency has a minuscule presence of Santhals, the tribe Marandi belongs to. Rather it is dominated by Yadavs, Bhumihars, Muslims, Koeris and other upper castes. Yet, Marandi won here in 2004 against heavy odds and against the tide of an anti-BJP wave sweeping the state.
Will it be easier for him this time and has he been able to catch the electorate’s imagination by sacrificing his Lok Sabha seat for principles' Some like R.K. Ghosh, who owns the largest stationery shop here, feel he has succeeded in showing up both NDA and UPA as lacking credibility.
Others point to his development work in the constituency and contend that none of the other candidates can match his work. But another section of the Koderma electorate rely on the results of the Assembly election and give Marandi no chance at all.