The usually uneventful and quiet East Singhbhum district, a stronghold of Ho, Oraon and Mahto tribals and with a sizeable migrant urban population from across India, is a hive of activity with barely days left for the Jharkhand assembly elections. Campaigning has gathered steam and the two major issues that seem to dominate in the district are corruption and Maoist violence.
All the mainstream political parties are trying to cash in on corruption. The fact that former chief minister Madhu Koda was an independent has helped them to make the fund embezzlement campaign that the chief minister is allegedly involved in an election plank.
The common people, on the other hand, want the Maoist violence and the cycle of bandhs to end. The latest bandh was called for 24 hours by the Maoists on Friday to protest a security offensive planned against them.
East Singhbhum’s residents think differently.
“Election is the only time the city wakes up or else it goes to sleep after 7 p.m. Now that the Naxals are operating almost on the fringe of the city, barely 30 km at Patamda on one side, Ghatshila on the other and in Saranda forest in West Singhbhum, fear keeps people indoor after sundown. I want the Naxal violence to end. The bandhs affect normal life,” Sweety Singh, principal of an English medium school for Sikh children here, told IANS.
The Maoists are widely known here as Naxals or Naxalites, after Naxalbari village in West Bengal, where the Maoist insurgency began in 1967.
Sweety Singh was echoed by social activist Nagesh V. who felt that “violence was a bigger threat than corruption”. “The Naxals can foray into the steel city any time,” he said.
The sprawling steel city, headquarters of the East Singhbhum district and the state’s finance capital, is currently a cacophony of mobile campaign vans screaming slogans to “strengthen the hands of their leaders” and makeshift party posts holding impromptu election meetings and belting out political jingles set to the tune of bhajans.
Jamsehdpur is strategic because the city — one of the oldest cosmopolitan towns in Jharkhand with European and Persian heritage — is home to some of the biggest Tata industries like the Tata Iron and Steel Company, Tata Motors, Tata Cement and Jusco (the social utility unit of the Tata Group), Tinplate, Tata Robins Fraser and the Tata—Timken.
The three major parties which matter in the district — the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) — have roped in heavyweights to canvas for votes, especially in Jamshedpur. But they are tacitly silent on Maoism, fearing reprisal and loss of local support in the interiors, where the Naxals’ writ runs.
This week the steel city saw a posse of VIPs like veteran Congress leader Digvijay Singh, central minister Subodh Kant Sahay and BJP crowd-puller Smriti Irani. The JMM campaign was led by local veteran Dulal Bhuyan, who predicted “victory for the party”.
“The Congress can give the state a stable government. For the last nine years after Jharkhand was formed, the Congress did not get an opportunity to man the state. We are partially to blame for this. Consequently, the state was looted by corrupt leaders,” Mr. Dijvijay Singh told a crowded rally in Mango in Jamshedpur West assembly constituency that has a large Muslim and tribal population.
Mr. Digvijay Singh’s view was endorsed by Subodh Kant Sahay, who said “a nexus of treacherous leaders had been ruling Jharkhand for the last nine years”.
The Congress is expecting to improve its tally, local leader Arun Yadav said.
Smriti Irani said: “Jharkhand was only known for its scams and no one ever spoke of development.”
East Singhbhum has six assembly segments - Bahragora, Ghatsila, Jamshedpur East, Jamshedpur West, Jugsalai and Potka. The staggered five-phase assembly elections will take place from Nov 25 to Dec 18.