Lok Sabha Hazaribagh: The royal, the dynast, and the trade unionist

BJP candidate Jayant Sinha, Yashwant Sinha's son, at Banadag village outside Hazaribagh town. Photo by manob Chowdhury

BJP candidate Jayant Sinha, Yashwant Sinha’s son, at Banadag village outside Hazaribagh town. Photo by Manob Chowdhury

In 2009, former finance minister BJP’s Yashwant Sinha had won from Hazaribagh constituency in central Jharkhand reversing his defeat in the 2004 elections by CPI’s Bhuvneshwar Prasad Mehta, a coal workers’ union leader. This time, the BJP, a trenchant critic of the Congress’ dynastic politics, has given the ticket to Mr Sinha’s investment entrepreneur-turned-politician son Jayant Sinha.
Among Sinha’s rivals is another dynast, a royal, the sitting MLA from Congress Saurabh Narayan Singh who is the grandson of the former king “Ramgarh Raja” Kamakhya Narain Singh, and CPI’s Mehta, now 74. Also among the candidates, is three time-BJP MLA Lok Nath Mahto, who switched from BJP to Sudesh Mahto-led All Jharkhand Students’ Union (AJSU) a few weeks before the elections.

Ask who will win this time from Hazaribagh, and invariably there is a reference to a large meeting of the OBCs Mahtos last December. The community makes up a significant section of the electorate in this old coal mining zone of the two districts Hazaribagh and Ramgarh. More than two lakh participated in this Mahto samaj meeting, he who attracts the combined vote of the Koeri Mahto – marginal farmers – and Kurmi Mahto – richer agriculturalists who migrated from Bihar – will lead this contest, claim most observers. While CPI’s Mehta is a Koeri, that Lok Nath Mahto is a Koeri and has the overt backing of AJSU MLA from Ramgarh Chandraprakash Chaudhary, a Kurmi, is seen in his favour. His previous work in BJP and OBC community links both may undermine BJP here, say observers.

While Yashwant Sinha had won with a third of the over 6.9 lakhs votes polled in the last elections, most party leaders and voters criticise his record as MP for having remained “inaccessible”, or “absent.” “BJP workers, whether on their own or on being prompted sent 2,800 letters to central leadership criticising Yashwant and then he was replaced by his son,” says a state BJP leader.

In Hazaribagh town, there are a few signs of his presence besides a billboard from last December crediting the arrival of a new railway line to Sinha. The announcement of his son, Jayant, 50, an IIT Delhi and Harvard Business School alumnus who worked with investment firm Omidyar Network till December 2013, too set off a mixed reaction. Most voters say they have not seen or heard of him. Some BJP supporters say a “change of face” may help, others claim former BJP MP from Hazaribagh Yadunath Pandey would have attracted more votes.

At 11 am, when BJP’s Jayant Sinha preceded by a vehicle with a loudspeaker reaches Banadag village, 8 km from the town, dressed in white kurta pyjama over sneakers, he invokes caste but to argue against it. Instead he invokes Gujarat’s model of development, and frequently refers to his father’s tenure as MP. Speaking in Hindi, he slips up crediting Yashwant Sinha as a “dabbang MP” (a muscleman) for bringing a Rs 3000-crore railway line to Hazaribagh. “Gujarat has 24-hours power and good roads and ambulance services, I will ensure the same here. For BPL, pension beneficiaries sisters, we promise an online database that will allow a direct benefits transfer to bank accounts”, he promised, adding that the latter was a project he worked on as part of Narendra Modi’s IT team in Gujarat.

CPI's Bhuvneshwar Prasad Mehta (in dhoti) in Badkagaon, 27 km from Hazaribagh. Photo by Manob Chowdhury

CPI’s Bhuneshwar Prasad Mehta (in dhoti) in Badkagaon, 27 km from Hazaribagh. Photo by Manob Chowdhury

In Badkagaon, 27 km away, CPI’s Bhuvneshwar Prasad Mehta, whom his supporters describe as a “zameeni neta,” finalized details of a public meeting scheduled on Sunday over tea with CPI cadre. Mehta who worked as a trade union leader among coal miners, defeated the former Queen of Ramgarh in 1980 and first became MP in 1991 defeating BJP’s Yadunath Pandey. He rattles off a list of 27 villages nearby where farmland is marked for acquisition for coal-blocks, and talks to several villagers addressing them by their first name. “Our cadre and groundwork will bring him back,” says Chottu Thakur, CPI member. “We have voted for him before, what did he change?” says Abdul Karim, a farmer in a Chaupdar Baliya village.
With Mahto and OBC vote split between BJP, AJSU, and even CPI, it is Congress’ MLA Singh, the king’s descendant and Hazaribagh MLA, who may make off with the largest chunk of votes, speculates another observer.


2009:
1. Yashwant Sinha, BJP – 31 percent votes
2. Saurabh Narayan Singh, INC – 26 percent
3. Bhuvneshwar Prasad Mehta, CPI and Shivlal Mahto, JMM – 7 percent

2004:
1. Bhuvneshwar Prasad Mehta, CPI – 50.4 percent votes
2. Yashwant Sinha, BJP – 35.5 percent
3. Chandraprakash Chaudhary, AJSU – 5.2 percent

This report appeared in The Hindu here.

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