DECODING KODA

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By Madhu Koda's life, so far, had been a litany of failures. But success finally seems to be looming on the horizon - Koda could be the next chief minister of Jharkhand
  • Published 9.09.06
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Madhu Koda’s life, so far, had been a litany of failures. He failed to keep his father’s wishes: senior Koda wanted him to become a policeman, but his son went and joined politics instead. He failed to keep his marriage afloat: his wife eloped with an engineer after four months of marriage in 2004. And he failed to make a mark as a minister in Jharkhand.

But success, finally, seems just a step away. For Koda (pronounced Kora), 36, has turned out to be a one-man army rocking the boat of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Jharkhand. The independent MLA from the mineral and forest rich Jagannathpur constituency is billed to be the next chief minister of the state. After days of political turmoil, it seems that the Arjun Munda government is out — and if all goes well for Koda, he is in.

No one had thought that the political novice who was denied a ticket by the BJP in the 2005 state Assembly polls would ever replace BJP chief minister Arjun Munda. Koda, in fact, was in those days more of an object of pity than a symbol of strength. Many still remember how he broke down before the party’s senior leader, Yashwant Sinha, after the BJP refused to field him from Jagannathpur — a constituency that Koda had represented after winning the seat on a BJP ticket in 1999.

But then Koda contested — and won — the seat in the West Singhbhoom district of the state as an independent candidate, becoming a much sought after legislator in the house. The BJP-Janata Dal(U) combine had got a fractured mandate in the last polls — having won only 36 seats in the 81-member house. To keep his government going, Arjun Munda had to bow to the independents and their hard bargains. So Madhu Koda became his mines and geology minister.

But Koda’s term so far has been a lacklustre one. A product of a Hindi school in the backward West Singhbhoom district, Koda has a speech impediment, which inhibits him from speaking in the Assembly. He is also not remembered for any landmark decision or work as a deputy Panchayat Raj minister in the Babulal Marandi government in his first tenure as an MLA, or later as a minister under Munda.

Koda, however, has his connections. He is known in the state for his links with some industrialists from West Singhbhoom, who have supported him in his bid to get departments that deal with iron ore or coal mine. The buzz has it that there are three smart men who always accompany him — and do all the dealings with the industrialists. He now prefers to shop at the malls of Gurgaon, has developed a taste for a good life and flies off to Bangkok at regular intervals.

Some still believe that Koda is a simpleton — others are not so sure. It was, after all, he who raised the banner of revolt against the Arjun Munda dispensation, along with three other independent ministers. The four resigned from the council of ministers, turning the Munda government into a minority one.

Observers believe that the move had the support of some strategists of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) — who are also said to be backing Koda as the next chief minister. The UPA grapevine has it that it’s Koda who will occupy the chief minister’s chair if the Arjun Munda government fails to muster up a majority in a trial of strength on or before September 15, a date fixed by the state governor.

To be sure, the curly haired-man who loves to attend the Assembly in jeans and a jacket will create history of sorts if he does become Jharkhand’s new chief minister. He will be the first independent MLA to hold the top post with the support of 41 MLAs belonging to different political parties and groups.

For Koda, the journey so far has been quite an amazing one. Born in a farmer’s family at Patahatu village in West Singhbhoom district, he had his early education in a village school surrounded by deep forests and hills. Later, he did his matriculation from the zilla school, Chaibasa, and his graduation from Utkal University in Orissa through a correspondence course.

His family continues to live in relative penury in his ancestral village. His father, Rasik Koda, told newsmen this week that Madhu does hand over “Rs 200-300” to him occasionally. His father worked at the Indian Iron & Steel Company, Gua, before retiring in 1996 and going back to his village and his farm. Rasik Koda, who still loves to drink his hadia like many other tribals, wanted his son to become a daroga or constable. Politics was never his cup of tea.

But his son chose to adopt a profession that was alien to the family tradition. He joined the BJP’s youth wing in the early 1990s and soon emerged as a favourite of the party’s then rising star, Babulal Marandi. Koda grew under the patronage of Marandi and got the party ticket to contest the Jagannathpur seat in the 1999 elections for the first time. He won the seat, making his mark in a region dominated by many of Jharkhand’s political heavyweights like Bagun Sumbrui, K.C. Hembrom, Devendra Majhi and Rudra Pratap Sarangee.

He got married to a local girl — an old heartthrob — in May 2004 at Jagannathpur. His Assembly colleagues pulled his leg on seeing him turn up in the House in designer jeans and shirts in the run up to his marriage. Speaker Inder Singh Namdhari even threw a reception party to celebrate Koda’s marriage. But the marriage didn’t last.

Patahatu villagers, however, expect Koda to survive in the hottest seat, if he does get to occupy it. And Rasik Koda is looking forward to his son’s elevation, too. If not a daroga, surely a chief minister would do?