As Prime Minister Narendra Modi prepares to hold a rally at Deoghar in the Santhal Pargana division of Jharkhand on Wednesday, the question being asked is whether the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) efforts pay in making a dent in the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) bastion.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the JMM contested four seats in the region and won two (Dumka and Rajmahal). The BJP won the Godda seat.
"The Soren family has exploited the people of Santhal Pargana for years. The people voted for them, but they did nothing for the development of the area. Instead, it violated the land laws and amassed land illegally," he reiterates at his rallies.
But it may not be as easy as it sounds. JMM President Shibu Soren is a grassroots politician who started his political carrier with a campaign against moneylenders in the region. His campaign freed poor tribals from clutches of usurers and Soren became popular as 'Disom Guru' among them.
Godda, Dumka and Rajmahal are the state's remaining three Lok Sabha constituencies going to the polls on May 19 in the seventh and final phase of voting. Spread over six districts, the seats fall in the tribal-majority Santhal Pargana, which is a JMM stronghold. Dumka and Rajmahal are reserved for Scheduled Tribes (ST).
The JMM chief has been winning the Dumka Lok Sabha seat since 1991. It was only in 1998 and 1999 that BJP's Babulal Marandi defeated Soren. Marandi quit the seat in 2001 after becoming first Chief Minister of Jharkhand, carved out of Bihar in 2000.
The Rajmahal seat has been alternating between the BJP and the JMM for many years. In 2014, JMM's Vijay Kumar Hansdak defeated BJP's Hemalal Murmu, who won the seat on the JMM ticket in 2004. The BJP had won the seat in 2009.
Godda was traditionally a Congress seat, but the BJP won it in 1999 and 2009, and in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections pushed the Congress to the number two position. This time, the seat has gone to the JVM-P as per the grand alliance's seat-sharing formula.
(Nityanand Shukla can be contacted at email@example.com)
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