Dumka (Jharkhand): The political history of Dumka in Jharkhand is unique as any political wave or storm has not been able to move the constituency. In the 1980 Lok Sabha elections when there was a massive support for Indira Gandhi across the country, it was a tribal leader – Shibu Soren of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) – who defeated Prithvi Chandra Kisku of the Congress in his tracks by winning the general election.
Seventy-five-year-old Soren has been winning parliamentary elections from Dumka for the past four decades. He has won from the constituency eight times and lost thrice. He faced defeat twice in sympathy waves. The first election, which he lost had followed assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the second when then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had to resign after 13 days of the formation of the BJP government after he failed to muster a governing majority.
His third defeat in 1998 was at the hand of his arch rival Babulal Marandi, who was then a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, is now president of the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) [JVM (P)]. He had emerged as a giant killer by defeating his wife Rupi Soren as well in 2000. However, Marandi lost from Dumka in 2014 and emerged a distant third.
The former Union Minister who has served as the chief minister of the state thrice, 1944-born Soren is regarded as a demi-God in the Santhal Pargana and popularly called as “Guruji”.
This election, he is up against his disciple Sunil Soren, who has been fielded by the BJP despite him losing the seat two consecutive times. This time, however, Sunil is giving him a tough fight. He has the advantage of knowing his mentor’s strategy. He is going everywhere where he finds an opportunity to make a dent in Soren’s strongholds.
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Shibu Soren has not been active in campaigning because of his age and health. His son and former Chief Minister Hemant Soren along with senior leaders of the JMM are managing his campaign. Despite admitting that the JMM is their party and Soren is their leader, people have a number of grievances against their representative.
Though Dumka is a confirmed seat for the JVM, Soren – people say – has not done much for his constituency despite being constantly supported by the electorates. “Soren’s performance is extremely poor. He being the MP has not done anything for the betterment of tribal population here. We have land, but it is of no use because there is no source of irrigation. It’s a mountainous region and it is difficult for us to do boring on our own. Earlier, we had lift irrigation but it is not functional anymore in the absence of maintenance. As MP, Soren should have done something to solve the problem,” Babu Ram Hasda – a resident of Murmalla village in Jama block told NewsClick.
He said his panchayat has two super power grids but the locals do not get electricity, which is sent to other states. “As part of a conspiracy, we are not being supplied electricity so that our children do not study. Governments want us to continue living our miserable life so that we don’t ask questions and demand our rights,” he alleged.
He said he will vote for Soren as he does not have any other option. Asked about the BJP, he said the saffron party is trying snatch tribal land and give it to corporates. “The BJP wants to cease our rights on Jal, Jangal, Zameen (water, forest and land) and therefore, it was trying to dilute the SPTA (Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act) and CNTA (Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act). They are enemies of our existence. How can we think about voting them to power,” he said.
Anil Baski from Daldali village in Jama block said migration is a big problem here. “People don’t have jobs. We earn livelihood with extreme difficulty by cutting wood in forests and selling them to the market. It needs a lot of labour, but the return is too little. Majority of us now work as daily wage labourers but the work is not enough here. Therefore, after harvesting season, tribals now migrate to West Bengal, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh and Punjab to work as labourers. In bigger cities, after working throughout the day, we have to sleep on the roadside,” he said.
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He was echoed by Biru Sen – a resident of Maharo village in Jama block – who said the women folk have to sell toddy and locally made liquor in absence of any respectable job. “Our men, women and even young girls are forced to sell toddy and liquor on roadside despite knowing the fact that it is not a respectable work. But they have no other choice,” he said.
Habil Murmu from Dwar Pahadi village in Shikaripara block says no one seems to be serious about affordable and quality education for our children. “Government schools in villages run on the mercy of teachers – who don’t pay attention to the students as they get a meagre as salary every month. No appointment of permanent teachers have been made in primary schools in the past five years. Around 4,000 schools have been- shut and merged with bigger schools under the school merger programme of the state government. As a result, people have sent their children to distant villages. It is in violation of the Right to Education, which says there should be one school in 1 km radius. Shiksha se vanchit karna hi to Manuwadi vichardhara hai (Denying education is Manu’s ideology),” he said, adding that the “operational schools are running at the mercy of contractual teachers who get not more than Rs 7,000. How will they give 100% to the children in imparting education when they are not properly paid?”
Alizabeth Marandi – deputy village head of Bhatniya panchayat – alleged that several villages don’t have Anganwadis centres. “Under the Right to Food, it should be at every 500 metres,” she added.
Almost all tribal areas in Jharkhand are rich in mineral resources, which are being dug out by big corporates, but those who own the land – from where the mining projects are operational – are not the beneficiaries. “There are several stone mines in Dumka district. The excavated stones are used to make stone chips used to construct roads. Local people – who are majorly tribals – who work in those mines are just labourers and are not given any medical facility, social security benefits and proper salary. They are not even provided proper safety gear,” said Islam Tudu – deputy village head of Nayadih at Tegdhana panchayat in Jama block.
A visit to several tribal concentrated ares of the state by NewsClick revealed that people are forced to live in extreme destitute. A large number of them are not getting ration on the Public Distribution System (PDS) – which is the main source of their livelihood because they do not have Aadhar cards and ration cards. Those who have ration cards get rice, salt and kerosene. But the kerosene is too costly. They have to buy kerosene at the rate of Rs 55/litre, which is out of their reach. Ideally, they should get wheat and sugar as well, which are not given to them in many of the villages.
Due to extreme poverty, illiteracy and social backwardness, they are forced to send their children to bigger cities through agents who cheat them on the pretext of jobs. The trafficked children are then forced to become domestic help or into such professions as begging and prostitution.
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These villages also remain largely disconnected from the outer world. In many villages, there are no roads, healthcare facilities and safe drinking water.
Different political parties taking part in this seven-phase election, instead of talking about bringing this marginalised community to the main stream, focused on making their caste arithmetic right and kept busy in mudslinging only. The Lok Sabha elections 2019 is concluding today with 3 Lok Sabha constituencies (Godda, Dumka and Rajmahal) of Jharkhand going to polls in the final phase. Elections come and go but what does not change is the lives of these people who religiously caste their vote with the hope that something good will happen to them.