Daltonganj, April 8: Facing Maoist poll boycott, Palamau Lok Sabha seat has become something of a touchstone for four present or former chief ministers of three states — Jharkhand, Bengal and Bihar.
Heavyweights Mamata Banerjee, Lalu Prasad, Arjun Munda and Babulal Marandi have thrown their might behind this SC reserved seat that goes to polls on Thursday.
On the last campaign day, as Ramnavami processions spilled on roads and festive flags fluttered, former chief minister and senior BJP leader Arjun Munda canvassed for protégé and former DGP V.D. Ram in Kandi, Bhavnathpur, Chhatarpur and Kishunpur, urging people to vote judiciously.
“Your vote will decide the nation’s fate. The country needs Narendra Modi as the next Prime Minister,” he kept saying.
Munda is perceived to have taken a risk by fielding “elite” former policeman Ram in an impoverished area. Ram’s victory will be Munda’s personal vindication; his defeat a personal loss of face.
“The BJP has urban appeal. In rural pockets, every contestant has clout. People keep cards close to their chest. Rural voters decide at the eleventh hour,” Md Maqdoom, a tea stall owner in Redma, said.
Making his electoral debut, Ram wisely stressed on a Modi wave. “No one can stop Narendra Modi from becoming the country’s next Prime Minister this time. I know Palamau’s youths are with me. They know Modi alone can make their dreams come true,” he said.
Sitting MP and Trinamul nominee Kameshwar Baitha, on the other hand, claims to know people’s pulse. Campaigning in Kandi and Bhavnathpur, Baitha urged voters to be his “strength” to safeguard the rights of the poor over jal, jungle aur jameen.
A former Maoist, Baitha won in 2009 on a JMM ticket and joined Mamata’s party when the JMM decided to support RJD in Palamau as part of the seat-sharing pact.
“I always struggled to safeguard the interests of the poor as a rebel and in mainstream politics. I have never done anything for personal gain. Still, the official machinery is after me. Now that Mamata didi is with me, everyone knows I alone can steer the battle for people,” he thundered.
But the buzz on Baitha is mixed.
“Baitha will get dhobi community votes. But many backward communities are sceptical, as his conviction in some pending cases is imminent. As a convicted MP, he may not sit in Lok Sabha for long,” said a local resident.
Lalu protégé and RJD contestant Manoj Kumar Bhuiyan also campaigned across Daltonganj.
Elected to Palamau Lok Sabha in 2004 on an RJD ticket, Bhuiyan lost membership in 2007 for allegedly accepting bribes for raising questions in the House.
In political wilderness for years, he was taken back by Lalu recently. Lalu campaigned for him, urging people to vote for Bhuiyan in their “fight against communal forces”.
“There is no NaMo wave in Palamau,” Bhuiyan said. “Palamau is a traditional socialist stronghold. People here reject communalism. History will repeat itself,” he added.
Bhuiyan’s surname may play also a big part. “Urban voters are okay with Ram, but in villages, Bhuiyans are kings. We call them Bhuiyan rajas, who earn and blow up money on the same day. The RJD has fielded a Bhuiyan,” said Suresh Ram Chandravanshi, a grocer near Panchmuhan Chowk.
JVM candidate Ghuran Ram had won the Palamau seat on an RJD ticket in the 2007 bypoll when Bhuiyan had to bow out. Ghuran Ram lost to Baitha in 2009.
Campaigning today in Garhwa Assembly segment under Meral block, he said: “People remember the good work I did during my 18 months stint. Everyone will realise my might on May 16 (counting day).”