SULIAPADA(MAYURBHANJ): The General Elections in Odisha may have narrowed down to a fight between Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and Prime Minister Narendra Modi but here in the tribal heartland of Mayurbhanj, Shibu Soren’s Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) continues to hold the X-factor.And this time, the hustings in the district have a special buzz around them. For, it is none other than the daughter of Guruji, as Soren is fondly called by the tribals, Anjani Soren Marndi, who is making her electoral debut from the soil.
Anjani is the JMM-Congress alliance candidate from Mayurbhanj Lok Sabha seat while the party has fielded its State president Mahesh Hembram from Saraskana, State secretary Jena from Morada, district president Phagu Hansdah from Bangriposi and Ramchandra Murmu from Rairangpur Assembly segments in the district.
The popularity of Guruji becomes amply clear when Anjani arrives at Kamarjhanta village in the remote Suliapada block for campaigning. The villagers, mostly women, surround her vehicle and offer her tender coconut water and refreshments. The air of familiarity is obvious.
“She is our Guruji’s daughter. Since she has come for the first time to our village, it is our responsibility to honour and take care of her. We had prepared food though she did not take, but I am happy that she had coconut water,” said Shanti Hembram, who escorted her to a makeshift meeting place.
The meeting that followed the casual chats with the tribal group was also unique in many manners. There was no stage, sound system or any rally, but people were brimming with enthusiasm. Beginning her speech with a traditional ‘Juhar’, she highlighted the non-performance of BJD and BJP governments at the State and Centre besides reiterating JMM’s commitment to the development and upliftment of tribals.
Not conversant in Odia, Anjani addresses the crowd in fluent Santali. “Be it BJD or BJP, no one is concerned about tribals. All lure them during elections to pocket their votes. JMM has been fighting for the rights of tribals and would continue. I will follow in my father’s footsteps and leave no stone unturned while working for tribals,” she said in Santali as the people acknowledged with slogans like ‘Jay Guruji’.
She may be a political novice but she does display confidence and maturity of an experienced leader as she engages with the voters. Even as her brother Hemant Soren followed the legacy of father and became the Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Anjani, an Intermediate in Arts, was not inclined to politics initially. It was only after the untimely demise of her husband Debanand Marndi, who was a director with the SAIL, that she decided to take the plunge.
JMM has a strong base in Baripada, Rairangpur, Bangriposi, Saraskana, Morada and Jashipur constituencies in Mayurbhanj with a vote share of over 20 per cent. The party was in second position in 2009 though its popularity declined in 2014 elections. This time, it expects to be back in reckoning with Anjani leading from the front.
The battle ground of Mayurbhanj, though, will see a tight contest among BJD, JMM and BJP. The JMM has lost its top rung leaders like Dr Debashish Marndi, who was its Lok Sabha candidate in 2014 but now the BJD candidate from this seat, and also former MP Sudam Marndi, who is in BJD. But with Guruji’s daughter in fray, it hopes for a recovery.
Anjani is banking on the popular image of her father and brother as campaign posters featuring the two stood out. While former Jharkhand CM and brother Hemant is set to vigorously campaign for her, Guruji is coming for electioneering on Thursday.
Undeterred by the JMM revival, the BJD, however, looks confident. “It is the image of Naveen Patnaik and his popular schemes that would fetch votes for the party. The JMM factor is unlikely to impact my winning prospect,” said Dr Debashish.
BJP’s Bisweswar Tudu is also not left behind. While Union Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram is camping here, leaders like Nitin Gadkari and Dharmendra Pradhan have campaigned for him.
In the last five elections, the BJD and BJP have won two each while JMM was victorious once in 2004.