Ratu royalty stands by kin - Cong loses traditional trump card to JVM in Hatia run-up

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By SUMAN K. SHRIVASTAVA
  • Published 20.05.12
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Ranchi, May 19: Blood is thicker than a watered-down Congress.

Ratu royal family patriarch Lal Chintamani Sharan Nath Shahdeo (81) has said he would support his second cousin Ajay Nath Shahdeo, the JVM candidate for the Hatia bypoll on June 12, indicating a shift from his lifelong allegiance to the Congress.

Ironically, the only son of the “maharaja” — he is still so addressed, in part reverence, part fondness _ Gopal Sharan Nath Shahdeo, who died in 2010, was a Congress MLA twice. Gopal had been Hatia’s sitting MLA, but neither his widow Priyadarshani nor any of his four sisters showed any interest to carry forward the political legacy.

Chintamani could have backed Congress candidate Sunil Sahay, the younger brother of Ranchi MP and Union tourism minister Subodh Kant Sahay, whom incidentally the monarch had introduced to Ratu voters in 1977 when the latter had fought his Assembly elections on a Janata Party ticket.

But he chose to put his weight behind Ajay, a JVM man and currently Ranchi’s deputy mayor.

Speaking to The Telegraph at his Ratu palace, the 62nd and the last “maharaja” of the Nagbansi dynasty said he would be “the happiest man” if his cousin won the bypoll.

“Several people, including Subodh Kantji and Babulalji (Marandi) have approached me, but my blessings are always with Ajay,” he maintained.

Shahdeo studied at Raj Kumar College in Raipur and took over the throne in 1950 from great-grandfather Uday Pratap Nath Shahdeo after his grandfather and father died early.

Interestingly, though the region — then the southern part of Bihar — had numerous Congress and Jharkhand Party supporters in the 1950s, in 1957 Shahdeo stood for Assembly elections as an Independent candidate from Ranchi (sadar) and won.

Though he was elected to Bihar Legislative Council as a Congress candidate soon afterwards, he kept himself aloof from active politics. “Chief minister K.B. Sahay (Bihar’s fourth and a Gandhian) had in the early 1960s offered me a cabinet berth but I refused,” the ailing octogenarian recalled.

In his sunset years, he is now left without an heir — royal or political — though he maintains his daughters “take good care of me”.

But the Chintamani Shahdeo factor assumes importance in the Hatia bypoll as voters in Ratu and Kanke blocks — about 62 booths — revere the royal family that had allotted them land. People of all religions still come to the Ratu palace and seek his blessings on special occasions.

Ajay was earlier close to the Congress. “When my son Gopal was denied the (Congress) ticket in 2009, Ajay managed to convince the powers-that-be to give him the chance and Gopal won the seat. In fact, Gopal was very stressed when he did not get the ticket,” lamented Chintamani, the fact that his son died a year later of a cardiac arrest remaining unspoken.

The doting dad instead recalled how Gopal had taken out an impressive “vijay julus (victory procession)” after Jharkhand came into being in November 2000 and how he won his first Assembly elections on a Congress ticket in 2005.

What about this election? Hatia, a mix of urban and rural voters, is now a BJP bastion, but the Congress and JVM will play decisive roles in this “cliff-hanger”, predict pollsters.

Chintamani, who watches news on TV and keeps himself updated with current affairs and realpolitik, predicts: “Money muscle will play a big role. The winner will have to cross the 40,000-votes mark.”

Is he happy with the state of affairs in Jharkhand? The royal patriarch, who leads a disarmingly simple life — “no, I don’t use an air-conditioner” — refuses to comment. “Aap to sab jantey hain (You know it all),” he says politely.