|Poll officials check their EVMs while IAF personnel (above) stand guard beside a chopper that airdropped them at Dumka airstrip on Wednesday. Pictures by Pankaj Singh
Dumka, April 23: If Dumka residents need quality healthcare, higher education or even some retail therapy, they head to the nearest city of their choice — Bhagalpur in Bihar, Durgapur or Calcutta in Bengal — because though they live in the state’s second capital, it is just another mofussil town.
Former chief ministers Shibu Soren and Babulal Marandi overshadow the rest of the 12 candidates in the fray for Dumka parliamentary seat where personality cult has sidelined other poll issues such as underdevelopment, migration and the controversial cow slaughter. But, as Jharkhand’s tribal heart goes to polls tomorrow, residents such as private sector employee Rakesh Singh, who took his ailing mother to Bhagalpur for her blood transfusion, know nothing in Dumka will change anytime soon.
Ajit Kumar Chaurasia, a betel shop owner at Sindhi Chowk Bazaar area of Dumka town is happy at the poll boost to his business. “Kitne neta, karyakarta aur press wale aayein hain (So many politicians, party workers and mediapersons have come),” he said, fingers deftly rolling out paan by scores. “But this period is temporary. Everyone will forget Dumka after election,” he says sagely.
In India’s heartland, it’s the paanwala who has his finger on the public pulse. So, Chaurasia can foretell the amnesia that is Dumka’s fate.
If Ranchiites crib the city is too disorganised and dirty to be called a state capital, it at least has an IIM-R, an XISS and a St Xavier’s College, malls and multiplexes, an international cricket stadium, some speciality hospitals, including eye care, new and old city parks and so on. A multi-lane ring road is underway to ease traffic.
In contrast, Dumka in Santhal Pargana is where nothing happens.
Sido-Kanhu Murmu University (SKMU), established in 1992, still doesn’t have its own building. It functions out of its temporary address, the Santhal Academy.
Santhal Pargana College (SP College in short), Dumka, set up way back in 1954, had 2,000-plus students and 107 teachers in 1984. Now, the college has over 10,000 students and only 37 teachers.
“For all health needs, we go to Bengal cities 100km from here, as Ranchi is over 325km away, although I personally took my mother to Bhagalpur. Many pathological test facilities are just absent in Dumka. And the least said about the quality of infrastructure in government hospitals, the better,” Singh said.
The Dumka resident added it was useless to talk about parks, restaurants and malls in the town.
“To spend quality time with the family, we go to Basukinath or Baba Baidyanath temples, here and in Deoghar, respectively,” he added.
Prashant, who uses only his first name, is a senior faculty at SP College department of English. He says he is used to the “anarchy” that is Dumka. “There is no infrastructure for higher education here. People need to elect good leaders who will do something concrete for improving higher education in Santhal Pargana.” But asked to specify the problems, he parries the question.
SKMU has seen noted vice chancellors such as P.C. Hembrom, Victor Tigga, Indu Dhan, Md Basheer Ahmed Khan, among others. But, somehow, the university could not keep pace with contemporary needs and aspirations, say its faculty members. Right now, Ram Yatan Prasad, the vice-chancellor in-charge, heads it.
A permanent V-C would work wonders for the varsity’s morale, goes the murmur.
How excited are residents that two of the biggest regional leaders are locking horns in Dumka?
“Shibu Soren purana badshah hai is area ka. Par koi bata nahin sakta kaun jeetega. (Shibu Soren is the old emperor of this area. But no one knows who will emerge victorious),” says betel shop owner Chaurasia. Even the time-honoured soothsayer is stumped, it seems.
Dumka votes on April 24