Santhal Pargana holds the key to Jharkhand poll outcome

Polling officers carry EVM machines and other polling materials on the eve of the fourth phase of Jharkhand Assembly Election, in Dhanbad.

Polling officers carry EVM machines and other polling materials on the eve of the fourth phase of Jharkhand Assembly Election, in Dhanbad.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Sixteen of the 18 constituencies in six districts, bracketed as Santhal Pargana, will vote in the last phase on December 20

With the intensely-fought Jharkhand Assembly elections drawing to a close, Santhal Pargana, a traditional stronghold of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, holds the key to the poll outcome.

Sixteen of the 18 constituencies in six districts such as Deoghar, Godda, Sahebganj, Pakur, Dumka and Jamtara, bracketed as Santhal Pargana, will vote in the last phase on December 20.


Both the BJP and the JMM-led Opposition alliance are squared up to corner as much seats as they could for an edge in the 81-member Assembly.

Top leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, JMM executive president Hemant Soren and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi are on a whirlwind tour of the tribal heartland for one final push in the last phase election. Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is scheduled to address a rally at Pakur on Wednesday.

In 2014, the BJP had won seven seats, while the JMM clung on to six seats. Three seats were won by the Congress, while the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik), led by former Chief Minister Babulal Marandi, captured two seats. Five years down the line, the scenario has changed. The JMM and the Congress, which fought separately, have joined hands this time. The JVM has since lost the steam.

“The BJP had won seven seats in Santhal Paragna in 2014 because the JMM and the Congress contested separately. In the last election, the contest was between the Congress and the JMM, while the BJP came third in the Pakur seat. Now, when two parties have come together, there is no doubt that the alliance would do well,” said Shahbaz Alam, a JMM supporter.

“As many as five seats – Rajmahal, Pakur, Shikaripara, Maheshpur and Jamtara – share border with West Bengal having sizeable immigrants from Bangladesh. As the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 issue is evoking sharp reactions across the country, the alliance candidates find themselves in peculiar situation. While Hindu immigrants are rejoicing the CAA , a sign of consolidation of the BJP, both the JMM and the Congress hope for en bloc voting by both tribal and minority communities,” said Shiv Shankar Choudhary, a Dumka-based political analyst.

Implementation of the National Register of Citizens is one of the key poll promises of the BJP in the election. Both Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah have been vocal about the issue in different election meetings.

Some of the seats, including Barhait, Littipara, Maheshpur, Shikaripara, Nala and Jama, are considered safe bet for the JMM. While Mr. Soren is contesting from Dumka and Barhait, his sister-in-law, Sita Soren, is seeking re-election for a third consecutive term from the Jama assembly segment.

Coincidentally, Mr. Modi has chosen Dumka and Barhait for his two public meetings. “One can well imagine the desperation on the part of the BJP to prevent me from getting elected. It would miserably fail to succeed in its sinister design,” said Mr. Soren.

The JMM patriarch and three-time Chief Minister Shibu Soren wields considerable influence on voters of Santhal Pargana although he could not win the Dumka Lok Sabha seat this year. He has also held few meetings garnering support for the party.

Campaign issues

While the JMM is building its campaign on land acquisition, a touchy one for the tribal population, nativity and unemployment issues, the BJP’s campaign is focusing on the development issues. “The BJP has tried to tamper with the existing laws to alienate tribals from their ancestral land and hand over land parcel to their corporate friends at cheaper rate. When we return to power, the land acquisition process will be thoroughly reviewed,” said Mr. Soren.

Sameer Oraon, a BJP Rajya Sabha member, said: “Despite misleading campaigns by the Opposition alliance, we will surely win 65 seats this time and Santhal Pargana would contribute richly to our tally. People have seen the pace of development during the BJP rule and how it was stuck in the JMM and other party governments.”

Although stakes are high in the electoral battle, the region lags behind in different development parameters. Irrigation and drinking water remain distant dream in remote constituencies of Santhal Pargana. Villagers still source their drinking water from streams and nullahs which are used for bathing purposes.

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 5:53:24 PM |

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