Regarded as the second capital of Jharkhand, three politicians are slugging it out to emerge leader of the tribal population, which otherwise is on the throes of a struggle for survival due to drought and poverty. A good number of the tribals have made an exodus from Dumka district in search of livelihood.

Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) president and former Chief Minister Shibu Soren has been ruling the roost, but out to challenge his fiefdom are the former Chief Minister and Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM) chief Babulal Marandi and former Deputy Chief Minister Stephen Marandi, now with the Congress.

Interestingly enough, both the Marandis are striving to revive Congress rule in these areas in their own way, knowing well that only one will get to eat the cake, if at all.

Mr. Babulal Marandi has been waging a war against Guruji (Mr. Soren) since the day the Bharatiya Janata Party propped him to dislodge the JMM chief as the tallest adivasi leader in Santhal Pargana. The BJP made Mr. Babulal Marandi the first Chief Minister, but he later parted company and floated his own party.

After fighting the Congress all these years, the JVM chief has made common cause to take on both, the JMM and the BJP. Interestingly, Mr. Babulal Marandi is supporting former rival Mr. Stephen Marandi, who after parting company with Mr. Soren, joined the Congress in the hope of better post-poll prospects. The Congress is, needless to say, riding on two horses, making separate promises to both.

Mr. Stephen Marandi is contesting from the Dumka seat which he has been winning since 1977 on the trot, the last one as an independent. The earlier ones he won with the blessings of Guruji.

Mr. Soren has fielded son Hemant to assert his leadership not only on this seat, but also the other seats of Dumka district, Jama, Shikaripada and Jarmundi, once his stronghold. The four seats go to the polls on December 8. The JMM chief has fielded daughter-in-law, Sita Soren, from the Jama constituency. She is the wife of his eldest son Druga Soren (deceased).

The BJP, in alliance with the Janata Dal (United), is seeking to carry on with its strategy of wooing the tribals. It is doing so with a changed strategy, fielding lecturer Louis Fernandes to take on Mr. Stephen Marandi in Dumka.

The objective is not just to dent the JMMs fort, but also stem the efforts of the Congress to make inroads in the region by fielding a Christian, a minority. The party hopes that it will have its own impact in the other three seats of the district.

The interesting political battle across the district seems lost on a deprived electorate, even though it is just the second general Assembly election in the State after its creation in 2000.

Both the Santhal and the Paharia adivasis are lost in their own problem — of securing food for the winters.

Even officials admit that the distribution of photo identity cards has not crossed the 80 percent mark, underscoring the stark reality that at least 20 percent of the tribals migrated to either West Bengal or Bihar or the place that beckoned them with an assured means of livelihood.

It is a case of a failed National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme coupled with drought and poverty. The efforts of political parties to somehow stop the exodus by providing foodgrains and money is not paying off.

The bait has few takers for obvious reasons. “How long will it last? Two days? A week? At the most, till the election?” says Deepak Marandi, stressing “what we need is something that’ll keep us going the entire winter.” A new problem rearing its head in the district, which already has to contend with malaria, mostly cerebral cases — is that of naxalites.

Posters calling the people to boycott the elections have smeared the walls. They also talk about the Kathikund police firing on those up in arms against the proposed power plant in the Amgachi-Pokharia village in, which at least two persons were killed, questioning the role of political parties.