RANCHI: Tribal dominated Khunti, the land of Birsa Munda and ‘Patthalgadi’ rebellion, has been a BJP bastion for over three decades and represented by seasoned politician Karia Munda continuously since 1989, barring 2004. But the situation has changed radically after BJP replaced Karia with former Jharkhand chief minister Arjun Munda as candidate.
Khunti is to witness a direct contest between three time CM Arjun Munda and Congress candidate Kalicharan Munda. Arjun is relying on Modi factor while Kalicharan is trying to convince voters that his rival, an ‘outsider’, will not be able to bring any change to their lives. The Opposition parties coming together under ‘Mahagathbandhan’ has made the Khunti battle tough for Arjun as four of the six Assembly segments are held by the Opposition. The Christian community, which has sizeable numbers, too, have pitched for Kalicharan.
Arjun is trying to convince people that only he could become the voice of tribals, both Christians and non-Christian, in Parliament as he has always tried to protect tribal rights vociferously, sometimes even going against his own party—whether on the issue of tenancy acts or police action against ‘Patthalgadi’ supporters.
There are nine other candidates in the fray. While most contestants are seeking votes in the name of development, some of the major issues in the area still remain neglected. Khunti has been facing acute crisis of drinking water. Villagers have to walk up to 2-3 km to fetch drinking water from ‘dadi’ (a place from where water oozes out from ground). Despite being located on the periphery of the state capital, there are no signs of development in the interior villages.
Khunti, which has also been witness to Maoist menace for over two decades, constitutes rural areas, mostly tribal, adhering strictly to their culture. Gram Sabhas take all decisions, including which candidate is to be voted by villagers.
Developmental projects have not reached the ground, which has led to the ancient tribal practice of ‘Patthalgadi’ as a form of protest. An upsurge was crushed last year by the State government. Although, ‘Patthalgadi’ has died down, there are still some undercurrent flowing in the interiors which might impact the polls.