The Telegraph
Wednesday , April 2 , 2014
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K-factor to swing coveted seat

Jamshedpur parliamentary seat may have some of Jharkhand’s highest net worth voters, including globetrotters, but NaMo wave or not, any MP hopeful worth his nomination papers needs the Kurmi-Mahto vote bank of rural and semi-rural areas to win.

The main players in the Lok Sabha poll battle — JVM’s Ajoy Kumar, BJP’s Bidyut Baran Mahto and JMM’s Niroop Mahanty — are leaving no stone unturned to woo Kurmi-Mahto voters, an Other Backward Caste (OBC) agrarian community widespread across four rural segments of Jugsalai, Potka, Baharagora and Ghatshila. The Kurmis are also spread in large numbers in villages dotting either side of NH-33 till Chakulia.

The two urban segments that make up the constituency — Jamshedpur East and West — have a cosmopolitan population. However, the Kurmi-Mahtos alone constitute over 2.5 lakh of 16 lakh voters in the Jamshedpur seat that goes to polls on April 17. Also, the community has a tradition of voting en masse.

For instance, Patamda, which in Jugsalai Assembly segment) has a large chunk (over one lakh) of Kurmi voters. How important Patamda’s voting pattern is can be gauged by the fact that JMM’s Dulal Bhuiyan lost the 2009 Assembly elections when Kurmis voted for JVM’s Ramchandra Sahis.

Right now, sitting MP Kumar, who convincingly won the 2011 bypoll on a JVM ticket riding on his clean image, JMM hopeful Mahanty and JMM turncoat-turned BJP nominee Bidyut Baran are all making a mad scramble for Kurmi votes.

Kumar is looking for Kurmi approval based on his work as an MP in the limited time of a little less than two-and-a-half years. “The Kurmis voted for me in good numbers in the 2011 bypoll. This time, the numbers will increase,” he said.

Bidyut Baran is the lone Kurmi among 15-odd candidates in fray, but it cannot be readily said that he would get votes on caste lines. However, the man himself believes he knows the pulse of voters, particularly rural, much better than anyone else.

His erstwhile party, the JMM, has fielded an urbane corporate man in Mahanty. A rookie in politics, Mahanty has no grip of caste vote base and has been speaking on development work. But his party is also banking in equal measure on sympathy votes which Sabita Mahto, widow of JMM stalwart and respected Kurmi figure Sudhir Mahto, will amass once she joins the campaign trail for Mahanty.

“The Kurmis are not fools. They will vote for the right candidate. They generally vote on party lines and have been the formative force behind the JMM. Though off-hand it can’t be said who the community will vote for, campaigning by Sabita Mahto will be vital,” said former MP Shailendra Mahto, who had shot into limelight for his crucial evidence in the JMM bribery case involving then Prime Minister Narsimha Rao.

Now, after a chequered political career, Shailendra — whose wife Abha Mahto had also been a BJP MP — prefers to watch from the sidelines.

On the BJP’s chances, poll expert R.M. Sinha said: “There are some Kurmi supporters in the BJP, but Dineshanand Goswami of the party lost to JVM’s Ajoy Kumar in 2011 as rural Kurmis did not back the former. This amplifies my contention. This time round, Bidyut Baran Mahto is a Kurmi who may get votes on caste lines but I am not sure which way the cookie will crumble.”

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