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How BJP Goes All Out To Snatch JMM Bastion, By Hook Or By Crook

Although it is a mere by-election to the single Assembly seat of Littipara in Jharkhand, political parties have turned the entire area into a virtual battle ground

Photo Credit : PTI


Indeed, President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not violate the model code of conduct while launching populist schemes outside Littipara Assembly constituency-which is going to the polls on April 9- in Santhal Parganas division of Jharkhand. But the moves were potent enough to influence the electioneering.

While the President launched the 44-km solar street light project in Deoghar on April 2, the Prime Minister laid the foundation stone for construction of the multi-modal terminal on the river Ganga and doled out one lakh mobile phones among women in Sahibganj on April 6. Incidentally, venues of both the events were situated in Santhal Parganas division.

Although it is a mere by-election to the single Assembly seat of Littipara in Jharkhand, political parties have turned the entire area into a virtual battle ground. Making the electoral norms a mockery, the ruling BJP -- in the State and at the Centre as well – has been accused of using government machinery brazenly while the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leadership has been dared to retain the seat even as it fights to ward off the possible threat of a split within the party.

Being in power both at the Centre and in the State, the BJP is trying to reap optimum benefits to turn the situation in its favour -- by hook or by crook. In its desperate move to wrest the seat, the party has dared the Election Commission.

In multi-pronged strategies, the BJP -- that has never bagged the Littipara seat and had lost the election to the JMM by a large margin of about 24000 votes in 2014 Assembly polls -- in fact, aims to make collateral impact on electioneering by registering its achievements about development in other parts of the State. Whether it is in the garb of dedicating energy and roadways projects to the Nation by the President and the Prime Minister or abetting hatred against its arch-rival, the JMM among the local tribals, the ruling BJP in the State has left no stone unturned to influence the electioneering. In order to invoke public confidence in general and skip the possible wrath of the Election Commission in particular, the BJP has preferred to maintain a distance from making lucrative offers to woo voters in the poll-bound constituency of Littipara and even roped in the President, the Prime Minister and the State Governor to launch populist schemes along the borders of the constituency instead.

If President Pranab Mukherjee inaugurated flagship projects of the State Government at Deoghar in Santhal Pargana division on April 2, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on April 6, laid the foundation stone of the four-lane bridge on river Ganga to be constructed at a cost of Rs. 1955 crore at Sahibganj that is situated along the border of Littipara. In a strategic move to woo voters, the PM doled out one lakh mobile phone to women who presumably belonged to Littipara and were ferried to Sahibganj to attend the PM’s meeting for the purpose. He also distributed appointment letters to police personnel of the women battalion and that of Paharia battalion.

More, if well-placed official sources are to be believed, in a clear defiance of EC directives, the Chief Minister often uses the helicopter for covering election rallies without obtaining the mandatory permission from the commission. He is said to be using Government premises including circuit houses to hold party meetings too. Incidentally, neither the district administration nor the Central observers camping in the area to keep close vigil on the electioneering at the behest of the EC could afford to take cognisance of the alleged violation.

The BJP has had spin-off benefits from the constraints that the JMM is faced with. The JMM that has been retaining the seat for the past 40 years is the arch rival of the BJP in the election. The party is, however, in a fix to deal with the juggernaut of Modi-brigade that includes Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Raghubar Das. Although the party has a stronghold in the region and the party’s patriarch and former CM of the State, Sibu Soren alias Guruji is the paramount leader of tribals, it has reasons to be worried about.

Apart from the fear of losing its traditional seat, the JMM is struggling to salvage its credentials. The past bears testimony to the fact that its cadre are prone to corrupt practices and lured away easily to work in tandem with its rivals. Aspersions are cast even on none other than the official candidate of the party from Littipara, Simon Marandi who is facing charges in a graft case. Marandi has already been implicated in the infamous Cash-for-Vote case in the Rajya Sabha election in 2010 by CBI. The agency had raided the house of Marandi in connection with the case at the behest of the Jharkhand High Court and the probe is still on.

The party is, however, faced with the threat of a possible revolt from within. With the emergence of another power centre under the tutelage of Guruji’s son, Hemant Soren -- who happened to be the State Chief Minister during the previous coalition Government -- within the party, an unified attempt to save the seat appears to be a far cry amidst the virtual war of attrition between the camps of the father and son. A large section of the party leaders are supposed to be standing by Guruji and opposed to any development that amounts to elevation in the stature of Hemant Soren.

Though he has declared himself as de facto leader of the party and managed to hold control over the party unilaterally in the garb of frail health of his father, the Junior Soren has been accused of weakening the party’s clout and held responsible for losing many elections: he could neither hold on to power in the 2014 Assembly elections nor could he bag two seats in the subsequent Assembly by-polls and one Rajya Sabha seat as well that were held during the present regime of BJP in the State.

Besides, if the JMM loses the Littipara seat to the BJP, it would fail to exude confidence in tribals who believe that the party has the potential to counter forces active against their constitutional rights. This is to the credit of the party that it vociferously opposed the Government’s proposal to make amendments in the Acts pertaining to the protection of the constitutional rights of tribals.

It is to be noted that tribal rights are governed mainly by two Acts: the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act (CNT Act) and Santhal Parganas Tenancy Act (SPT Act). Incidentally, the present dispensation has recently earned the displeasure of the tribal community in particular for proposing amendments in the Acts. Besides other tribal groups, JMM took the lead in launching offensives against the Raghubar Das Government’s alleged anti-tribal move inside and outside the State Assembly -- albeit with an abortive attempt to gain political mileage.

As such, the election assumes even greater significance in the light of the fact that the BJP would have the implicit mandate to go ahead with its move to amend the tribal Acts if it wrest the seat from the clutches of the JMM. If the JMM retains the seat, Hemant Soren will be able to establish his leadership in the State and regain ground to renew his abortive attempts to succeed his father’s position in the party.

But, to top it all, the (mis)use of constitutional posts and Government machinery in a run up to the by-election to Littipara is potent enough to gauge the constraints of the Election Commission to ensure free and fair polling while dealing with political parties in power. But, at the same time, corrective measures appear to be no longer a distant possibility and might be exercised with the initiative to pronounce the model code of conduct in the entire State even during by-polls instead.