New Baharagora poll battle, with same faces
Sources in the BJP Baharagora unit said they were also aware of the resentment among the faction of senior BJP leader and former state party president Dineshanand Goswami over the manner in which Sarangi was inducted in the BJP.
“There is no doubt that Goswami, who is considered close to Union tribal affairs minister Arjun Munda, also harboured interest of contesting from this seat,” said a BJP Baharagora youth wing leader. “But Kunal was made to join the BJP days before the polls and everybody knows the role played by chief minister behind the screen. The diehard supporters of Goswami are demoralised and would not go to the full extent in canvassing for the party candidate (Sarangi) this time.”
In the 2014 Assembly polls, Sarangi had polled 57,973 votes (over 35 per cent) while the BJP’s Goswami had polled 42,618 (26.2 per cent) and Samir on a JVM ticket had polled an impressive 42,130 (26 per cent).
“Baharagora has been our stronghold and even in the Modi wave of 2014 we had managed to retain this seat,” said JMM East Singhbhum district president Ramdas Soren, who was present in Ranchi when Mohanty joined the party on Wednesday. “We have a considerable number of loyal JMM voters, especially Santhals, and if we add the personal vote bank of Samir, which is evident in the manner in which he polled during last few Assembly elections, there is every chance of our victory.”
Baharagora though a general constituency has a sizeable tribal populace (40 per cent), mostly Santhals and Mundas, followed by nearly 20 per cent Gopes, 15 per cent Mahatos, and over 5 per cent Mal-Majhis.
It has a total electorate of 2.22 lakh and 264 polling booths.
BJP East Singhbhum district president Dinesh Kumar Sahu, however, exuded confidence that the ruling party would wrest the seat.
“The names will be decided soon by our party core committee and with the slew of welfare schemes initiated by the Raghubar Das government people are well aware of the benefits of having a double-engine government and would root for a young and educated leader like Kunal Sarangi,” Sahu said.
The battle for the Baharagora Assembly constituency, around 90km from the steel city, has become a game of musical chairs.
The constituency, situated at the southern end of Jharkhand and bordering Odisha and Bengal, has seen its BJP and JMM leaders swap places weeks before the Assembly polls, scheduled on December 7 for the seat.
Kunal Sarangi, the sitting Baharagora MLA from the JMM who was also the party central spokesperson, joined the BJP last month. And the face of the BJP for more than four years in Baharagora and Chakulia, Samir Kumar Mohanty, made a homecoming to the JMM after nearly 15 years in Ranchi on Wednesday.
“The entry of Samir into the JMM has suddenly made the Baharagora Assembly constituency fight very interesting,” said a BJP district-level leader and a former senior functionary of the ABVP, the students’ wing of the RSS.
“Everybody knows that Kunal Sarangi had been handpicked by chief minister Raghubar Das after months of negotiation to contest from Baharagora. That the CM was focused on Baharagora was evident when he began the Kolhan leg of his Johar Jan Ashirwad Yatra from Baharagora in September. However, the BJP will not have it easy in the Assembly polls as it had during the Lok Sabha elections,” the leader added.
Jamshedpur MP Bidyut Baran Mahto had polled over 90,000 votes in the Lok Sabha election as against the JMM’s Champai Soren — the Opposition alliance candidate — who got around 65,000 votes from the Baharagora Assembly constituency segment of the Lok Sabha seat.
“Samir had begun his political career from the JMM in 1994 and had been active in Chakulia, vociferously raising local issues, and is known as a firebrand leader who is connected with the rural masses,” a BJP Baharagora block-level leader said. “However, he had parted ways with the JMM in 2004-05 after the JMM rejected his claims and gave the Assembly poll ticket to Mahto.
“Samir had been contesting every Assembly poll since then and in each poll he has managed to spring surprises with his growing clout. In the last few years he has worked hard in the field and managed to have a good support amongst Bengalis and Odias. If this combines with the traditional JMM vote bank of Santhals, it could really upset the BJP’s calculation,” the BJP leader added.