Tribal seats in Jharkhand going to polls to witness close triangular contest | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Tribal seats in Jharkhand going to polls to witness close triangular contest

May 11, 2024 04:02 PM IST

Singhbhum Lok Sabha has six assembly segments and all are with the ruling JMM-Congress alliance. The seat has traditionally seen a direct fight between the Congress and the BJP

Khunti/Singhbhum/Lohardaga: The three scheduled caste reserve Lok Sabha seats – Khunti, Singhbhum and Lohardaga – going to polls on May 13 in Jharkhand is presently a tough contest between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the INDIA bloc even though some independents in the fray are making an impact in the electoral dynamics. 

The three SC reserve Lok Sabha seats – Khunti, Singhbhum and Lohardaga – will go to polls on May 13 (Representative Photo)
The three SC reserve Lok Sabha seats – Khunti, Singhbhum and Lohardaga – will go to polls on May 13 (Representative Photo)

While the BJP had won Khunti and Lohardaga in 2019, Singhbhum was won by Congress. In 2019, the BJP won 11 constituencies in the state and its ally, the All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU), won one seat, and the remaining two – Singhbhum and Rajmahal in Santhal Parganas – were won by the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-led alliance. 

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However, the BJP’s victory margin in tribal reserved seats was much less with the saffron party winning Khunti and Lohardaga with wafer-thin margins of 1,445 and 10,363 votes, respectively. The Congress had defeated BJP by 72,155 votes in Singhbhum. 

Tribal minister Arjun Munda facing electoral heat in Khunti 

“It is difficult to predict the result with guarantee as everything is lukewarm this time round, be it election campaign or response of people. However, certain things are clear. Arjun Munda won from here and became a minister. The expectations were high for him. The one visible project which I remember that he did for the constituency was a free health mela in Khunti. Overall, he has failed to make a mark,” said Bir Singh Bodra, a scheduled tribe member.

Bhola Ram Sahu, who runs a steel fabrication shop on the Khunti-Chaibasa national highway said Congress candidate Kalicharan Munda is banking on the tribal votes and Arjun on non-tribal votes plus a section of his own Munda community.

“Last time, Arjun made a lead in the Kharswan Assembly and Tamar Assembly where Kurmis have a sizeable population. Arjun Munda is also preferred in the urban pockets and Kalicharan is stronger in the rural belt. A lot will depend on who can hold on to their forts on the voting day,” said Sahu, who declared himself a staunch BJP supporter.

Khunti Lok Sabha constituency comprises six assembly segments of which two are with the BJP and four with the Congress. Traditionally, the Congress has been strong in the tribal-dominated assemblies. In the Christian-dominated Simdega assembly seat, from where Rahul Gandhi’s Nyay Yatra passed, Hiradhar Bhoi, a Gond tribal leader, said he was influenced by Gandhi and he will go to his village this time and vote. “People are talking about voting for change,” he said.

Khunti hit the headlines in 2017 for the Pathalgadi movement. And one of the faces of the movement, Babita Kachhap, is in the fray as an independent. Besides Kachhap, Aparna Hans from the Jharkhand Party, led by former Kolebira MLA and minister Enos Ekka, is also in the fray.

While Congress says these candidates would make any impact, the BJP claims they will benefit Arjun. “Be it Kachhap or Hans, all votes which would go to them would help us. However, what is more worrying for the party is the voting pattern in the Pathalgadi-affected area. Last time many people boycotted the polls, but this time they are likely to participate. If they choose to vote for Congress, it could matter, especially in a situation of a tight contest,” a BJP leader, not willing to be named, said. 

Tables have been turned in Singhbhum 

In Singhbhum, the sitting Congress MP, Geeta Kora, wife of former chief minister Madhu Kora, who won in 2019, this time is fighting on a BJP ticket. She is up against Joba Majhi, a five-term legislator of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) from Manoharpur and a former minister in ex-Jhakhand chief minister Hemant Soren’s cabinet. 

The lone Lok Sabha Congress member from Jharkhand and one of the five working presidents of its state unit had defected to the BJP in February this year.

Singhbhum Lok Sabha has six assembly segments and all are with the ruling JMM-Congress alliance. The seat has traditionally seen a direct fight between the Congress and the BJP. However, since 2009, when Madhu won the Singhbhum Lok Sabha as an independent, the Kora family has been a major factor in the constituency, dominated by the Ho tribe community. 

Besides, the chatter of ‘betrayal’ by Koras amongst the Congress supporters, the identity of the Ho tribal sub-group is a major talking point in the constituency. According to the political workers across parties, the Ho community makes up around ‘60-70 per cent’ of the population in Singhbhum and has, therefore, been represented mostly by the Ho community members in the Parliament. 

Majhi is a Santhal, the most dominant tribal sub-group in the state. Chief minister Champai Soren, who represents the Saraikea assembly, is also a Santhal. However, his cabinet colleague Deepak Birua belongs to the Ho community and is most instrumental in backing Majhi in the battle against Kora. 

Roby Lakra, president of the social group, Kurukh Sarna Jagran Manch, said people of the area would not like to lose their Ho identity. 

“This is the only seat where we have our presence as it’s a matter of identity for around 60-70 per cent of the population here. People have also not taken it well the way Geeta Kora was gheraoed and attacked by JMM workers during campaigning,” said Lakra. 

Geeta was allegedly attacked while campaigning in Gamharia and Mohanpur in April.

Ashok Verma, a resident of Manoharpur and activist, said, “I don’t think Ho versus Santhal is an issue this time round. It is true that the area has backed members of the Ho community, but it also elected Krishna Maardi, a Santhal in 1991. Here work track record and accessibility of the candidates would be more important factors,” he said. 

Arun Nag, a Congress worker sitting in the election office of the JMM in Manoharpur, said, they were angry with the way Geeta defected to the BJP.

“We backed her with all might last time and that is why she won decisively. This time we are backing the JMM candidate also because she has done a lot of work and is also very accessible to people,” he added. 

“The BJP was looking for a major Ho face after the demise of former MP and state president Laxman Gilua. The local party leaders who have been fighting against the dominance of Koras in the zone are worried. They fear that if Kora wins, the family will become the most dominating force in the BJP in the Kolhan belt,” a BJP leader from the Chaibasa district unit said. 

Lohardaga – BJP drops two-term MP, JMM rebel creates uncertainty 

Lohardaga Lok Sabha seat has been in a close contest in the past two elections and with JMM strongman and three-term legislator Chamra Linda contesting this time, the fight has become triangular.

Lohardaga Lok Sabha comprises five assembly seats and all five are held by Congress and JMM legislators. The Congress has fielded its former state unit chief Sukhdeo Bhagat, who lost to BJP’s Sudarshan Bhagat by just over 10,000 votes in 2019. Whereas dropping Sudershan this time, the BJP has given a ticket to its national Scheduled Tribes wing president Samir Oraon, a Rajya Sabha member. 

While the locals feel Linda’s entry is an advantage to the BJP, the Congress supporters deny that Linda would hit their fortunes.

“His politics has been based on his aggressive demand of Sarna code in the Census for the tribals. He is also well-connected due to his social initiative of promoting youth clubs in the villages. In 2009, he had pushed Congress’ Rameshwar Oraon to third place and garnered 1.18 lakh votes and in 2014, he got around 96,000 votes when he contested on a TMC [Trinamool Congress] ticket. BJP’s fortunes would depend on his performance,” said Binod Singh, a resident of Lohardaga. 

The Sarna Code is a proposal for a separate religious code for tribal communities in India who follow Sarna or nature worship

Ramesh Kumar, in charge of the Congress election office in Lohardaga, said that the 2019 election result mirrors the limited impact Linda would have in the election. “Even if you go by the numbers, he got around one lakh votes in 2009 and 2014. It’s not that all those votes are anti-Congress. If that had been the case all those votes should have gone to the BJP in 2019 when Linda did not contest. Rather his votes were divided equally and the difference in Congress and BJP votes was merely 10,000. So even if he gets some votes this time round, he would eat into the votes of both the BJP and the Congress,” Kumar said. 

While Linda poses an external threat, the Congress candidate is also battling internal fighting. Former Lohardaga MP, Rameshwar Oraon currently represents Lohardaga in the assembly and is not campaigning for Congress’ Sukhdeo.

Similarly, Mandar MLA Shilpi Neha Tirkey, daughter of state working president Bandhu Tirkey, is also not backing him. So much so that party-in-charge Ghulam Ahmad Mir had to caution leaders at a recent meeting. “He told party leaders that assembly ticket will depend on the number of votes Bhagat gets from their assembly constituencies”, said a party leader, who did not wish to be named.

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