DUMKA: Dumka parliamentary constituency, currently represented by Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) chief Shibu Soren, has been the party’s stronghold since 1980. Soren, who was elected for the eighth time as Member of Parliament from Dumka in 2014, is believed to be a saviour of tribals of Santhal Parganas in north-east Jharkhand.
The 75-year old has been representing the Dumka Lok Sabha for the last three decades, except for three general elections. In 1984, he was beaten by Congress’ Prithvi Chand Kisku, while in 1998 and 1999, he lost to Babulal Marandi, who contested the seat on a BJP ticket.
Soren, revered as a demigod in these parts, is popularly known as Guruji for his fight to rescue the Santhals in 1970s from exploitation by mahajans and corrupt administrative machinery. People in Santhal Parganas still believe that Soren is the reason why they are leading dignified lives.
Guruji also gained popularity due to the role played by him in the Jharkhand movement, which ultimately led to the vivisection of Bihar and the birth of Jharkhand state on November 15, 2000. Soren has served thrice as Chief Minister of Jharkhand — first in 2005 for 10 days, then from 2008 to 2009 and again from 2009 to 2010.
Locals claim that voting for JMM has become a tradition in the region, largely owing to the party symbol — bow and arrow — also a traditional weapon of tribals.
“People vote for him blindly and it is purely down to the larger-than-life image he has here. Moreover, the JMM symbol – ‘bow and arrow’ — is not only Guruji’s political identity but are also symbols that Santhals readily identify themselves with,” Shiv Shankar Chaudhary, a local, said.
JMM has had a strong mass base in the rural areas, but after the ’90s, Guruji changed strategy and started connecting with Muslims and non-tribals, which further increased his base.
It was the shift in strategy which enabled him to survive the Modi onslaught in 2014. However, the situation is different in 2019, as a section of tribal population is disenchanted with the party due to various reasons, making it a tough contest for ‘Guruji’.
“Despite the fact that Guruji was elected eight times, it is believed that he did little in terms of development. There is disillusionment, both among the tribal and non-tribal population, as people, especially the young generation, are restless,” Chaudhary said.
Deteriorating health conditions and the fact that he never raised any question in the Parliament have also started hurting Guruji’s image, he added.
The BJP has been able to make inroads by raising issues such as development and the fight for Dumka is likely to be a two-way one between the JMM and the saffron party.
With the opposition grand alliance being considered a formidable opposition, the saffron party has been leaving no stone unturned to wrest the two JMM seats in Santhal Parganas, thereby putting themselves at pole position ahead of the Assembly polls, scheduled later this year.
“BJP has mounted a campaign offensive to dent the JMM bastion, which comprises three Lok Sabha seats of Dumka, Rajmahal and Godda. The party is all set to rope in its star campaigners, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah,” said media cell member Pradeep Sinha.
“Chief Minister Raghubar Das arrived in Dumka with this entire team on Saturday and will be camping there for a week,” he said.
“Since the margin of loss in Dumka in 2014 was merely 35,000, BJP candidate Sunil Soren has every chance of winning the seat. The emphasis is on comparing the development during the five years of the NDA with the Congress years,” Sinha said.
He added, “Guruji has been trying to gain sympathy through his emotional speeches and appeals for votes. However, it’s not going to work anymore, as people, especially the youths, want results.”
A poll observer said, “Whenever there has been a direct contest, JMM has been in trouble. In triangular fights, the JMM has always emerged victorious due to a split in non-tribal votes. Since, it is a direct contest between Shibu Soren and BJPs Sunil Soren this time, it is not going be a cakewalk for JMM,” said a local professor, requesting anonymity.
The Modi factor might also have a negative impact on JMM, as the BJP has been working hard in the region to mobilise people in its favour, he added.
Sunil Soren claimed that Guruji family will not be able to fool the people of Dumka anymore as his magic has waned.
“Earlier, there were no tribal leaders, which Shibu Soren took advantage of. But the situation has changed now. In this internet age, people want development, which Dumka has been deprived of for decades,” he said.
Sunil Soren calls his poll rival his political guru, as he learned the ropes of politics from him and emerged as a giant killer after defeating Shibu’s elder son Durga Soren in the battle for Jama assembly seat in 2005.