Independent candidate Kantha Singh leads his band of supporters at Ledha, about 65km from Jamshedpur, on Monday. Picture by Bhola Prasad
They may not have heard about Big B-starrer Bhoothnath Returns, which releases this Friday, but their ambition to defeat corrupt politicians and send a good Samaritan to Parliament from Jamshedpur matches that of Akhrot, the slum kid in the reel political satire.
Some 65 orphaned or destitute children from Ledha and Haredungri villages in Maoist-hit Ghatshila subdivision, 65km from the steel city, are rallying for Upendra Karmakar — more popular as Kantha Singh — an Independent candidate who provides them food and shelter.
“Hamare pitaji (Singh) ko vote diben. School mein teacher nahi, gaon mein bijli nahi, khana nahi. Koi neta asche nahi. Hamare pitaji hum log ko khana, kapda sab dete hain. Aap logon ko bhi denge (Please vote for our father. Village schools do not have teachers; villagers do not have electricity; they starve. No politician visits us. Our father provides for us; he will provide for you too),” 13-year-old Sagen Hembrom mixed Bengali and Hindi as he appealed for votes in Bhandidih armed with flags featuring Singh’s poll symbol, a torchlight.
Bhoothnath Returns, which is a sequel to the 2008 Amitabh Bachchan film Bhootnath, is set in a chaotic urban neighbourhood and features the fearless lad Akhrot, played by Parth Bhalerao, who helps a ghost take on an unscrupulous politician in an election.
“Torchlight mein vote dena. Hamare baba (Kantha Singh) aap ke saath rehenge aur vikas karenge. Baaki neta jaisa nahi karenge (Vote for the torchlight. Our father will stand beside you and usher in development. He won’t abandon you like other leaders),” said Maidi Murmu, also 13, and a student of Class IX.
Sagen, whose father abandoned him at the Ledha orphanage in 2010 after his mother died, sure knows a thing or two about what he calls “netagiri”. The Class III student, who hails from Ghorabandha, has grown up seeing at least two netas — JMM’s Ghatshila MLA Ramdas Soren and former CM Arjun Munda — and has been fond of none.
Bhandidih resident Mahendra Mondal (55) put into words the boy’s disgust for politicians and public representatives.
“Yahan light nahi. Sichai ka koi vyavastha nahi. Koi neta aata nahi. Kyun unko vote denge. Pichli bar humne vote bahiskar kiya tha. Iss bar hum log Kantha Singh ko vote denge (There is no power or irrigation facilities. No leader comes to hear us out. Why should we vote for them? Last time (2009), we had boycotted polls. This time, we will vote for Kantha Singh),” the villager said.
Incidentally, Kantha Singh had led the boycott campaign in the area during the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.
The children at his two orphanages are from villages of East Singhbhum and Seraikela-Kharsawan. They are not just provided food and shelter, but are also educated. The orphanages run primary schools up to Class VI.
A token amount of Rs 20 per child per month is arranged as tuition fee since the cradles do not have full-time teachers and recruits only ad hoc ones. The 51-year-old Independent candidate, who in his affidavit showed Rs 30,000 as liquid assets, seeks donations from well-wishers, social organisations and wealthy villagers to run his orphanages-cum-schools.
After Class VI, the children are admitted to state-owned Karaduba Madhya Vidyalaya and later on to government-aided Taramani Smarak Uchcha Vidyalaya.
His philanthropic work earned Singh accolades in 2009 from then President Pratibha Patil. He was invited to Rashtrapati Bhavan, where Patil honoured him with a cheque of Rs 50,000. Singh also won the CNN-IBN Real Heroes Award in 2010.