Simaria, an Assembly constituency under Chatra Lok Sabha seat that is among the 17 seats in the third phase of voting, is known as one of Jharkhand’s vegetable bowls, especially for growing tonnes of tomatoes and green chillies.
But instead of selling tomatoes and chillies at throwaway prices to middlemen, farmers, especially the young, want ketchup factories in Simaria, some 120km from state capital Ranchi. A reasonable demand no political party has heeded. Simaria farmers continue to be dependent on rain-fed agriculture and sell their produce at local haats. Produce and prices are unpredictable, poverty is not.
Simaria seat, which has six blocks, including Tandwa that earned a name due to three big coal projects including the NTPC 1980MW Super Thermal Power Plant and CCL’s open-cast projects at Amrapali and Magadh, also has industrial potential. But local youths have not yet been absorbed in these projects (who is saying this?).
For years, youths from Simaria migrate in droves for jobs as under-construction workers, a lucky few pick up a skill on the way such as welding and earn more.
This election, people of Simaria have flagged the issue of job opportunities here. But job opportunities hardly find mention during heated poll rallies. Personality clashes and ideological warfare do.
In the 2014 polls, voters here voted for JVM candidate Ganesh Ganjhu, the brother of Brajesh Ganjhu, the supremo of a banned rebel outfit, the Tritiya Prastuti Committee.
Ganesh, who debuted in 2009 on a JMM ticket, soon shifted to the BJP. But a shock awaited him this elections, when the saffron party denied him a ticket, and fielded grassroots party worker Kishun Kumar Das.
For Das, too, the going has not been easy. With the BJP-Ajsu alliance falling through, BJP’s former junior ally has fielded Manoj Chandra, the son of former Simaria MLA, late Ramchandra Ram.
The twist came when the Congress — which got Simaria as a part of its seat-sharing math with the JMM and RJD — gave a ticket to former MLA Yogendra Nath Baitha. In the fight, the other well-known contestants are CPI’s Binod Bihari Paswan and the JVM’s Ramdev Singh Bhokta, though in all 18 contestants are in the fray.
Which specific block each of Simaria’s popular contestants hails from may also have a bearing on votes, a local political watcher said. “BJP’s Das is from Tandwa block, Manoj Chandra of the Ajsu Party and Paswan of the CPI are from Simaria, JVM’s Bhokta is from Giddhore and Baitha from Itkhori. Only Lawalong and Pathalgadda blocks under the constituency have no known faces this polls. If people of each block votes for their local candidate, votes will be divided and the victory margin will be narrow. Moreover, who woos votes of Lawalong and Pathalgadda will become important. Nothing can be said for sure,” said the local expert.
He added with a chuckle: “Actually, if you look at Simaria’s poll history, this seat is one of a kind. So far, voters here have given a chance to the BJP, the Congress, the CPI, the RJD and the JVM.”
A BJP leader claimed they were “fully hopeful of Das winning this seat”, even though he admitted Chandra, Bhokta and Paswan had kept themselves active in public life.
Voters seem to be playing it by the ear. Septuagenarian Nandkishore Yadav of Tandwa said: “Other than green vegetables, Simaria is also known for producing milk, but this naturally blessed place is so poor. We want some concrete plans so that our sons don’t have to leave us and go to cities in search of jobs. We have changed our MLA a number of times but not got what we wanted. We want a ketchup factory and milk processing unit to come up here and put a check on migration.”
Student Aniket Kumar of Chatra College agreed with the old man.
“Badlav ke bawajud bhi is ilaake ki kuch khas tarakki nahi huyi (There have been a lot of changes, but not much progress here),” he said. Asked which way the wind is blowing, he shrugged.
Simaria votes today