Three parties, two party-hoppers and the wives of a deceased MLA are part of the build-up to the bypoll to Litipara assembly seat in Jharkhand.
The seat was with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), whose MLA Dr Anil Murmu died on January 17. The BJP is now keen to make inroads into the backward Santhal Pargana region. Chief Minister Raghubar Das has addressed nearly a dozen election rallies — besides holding meetings with local party leaders — while a few ministers and MPs from the area are camping there.
Following Dr Murmu’s death, his wives Yuniki Edora and Nisha Shabnam had filed their nomination papers, each hoping the JMM would give her the ticket. Instead, it was Dr Murmu’s one-time BJP opponent, Simon Marandi, who got the JMM ticket, having returned to what was his original party.
Disappointed, Yuniki Edora joined the BJP. Almost immediately, the JMM inducted Nisha Shabnam.
All of this has led to the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) [JVM(P)] fielding a candidate, Kistu Soren, after having initially decided to stay out. With Dr Murmu having once been a JVM(P) leader, the party had expected the JMM to field one of his wives. “That was our condition,” said JVM(P) leader Tauhid Alam. The Congress, the RJD and the Left have supported the JMM.
In his poll speeches, CM Das has been saying the JMM does not know how to respect widows of its own party leaders. “We were in touch with them right till the end. But somehow things did not work out,” said JMM general secretary Supriyo Bhattacharya.
Marandi, meanwhile has been a long-time JMM leader but for his brief stint in the BJP. His wife, Sushila Hansda, was elected from Litipara three times — in 1995, 2000 and 2005.
In 2009, Marandi was elected MLA, and became rural development minister in Hemant Soren’s government, only to be dismissed in 2014 following dissent against the chief minister.
He then joined the BJP and got a ticket for the 2014 polls. When he lost to Dr Murmu, Marandi fell out of favour with the BJP. He rejoined the JMM in the run-up to the bypoll.
The BJP candidate, Hemlal Murmu, too has hopped parties. Once the JMM MLA from neighbouring Barhet, he is now one of the BJP’s state vice-presidents. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Hemlal Murmu was the JMM candidate from Raj Mahal – Litipara is one of its segments – while Dr Murmu was the JVM(P) candidate; they lost to the BJP’s Vijay Hansda.
Apart from the denial of the ticket to Dr Murmu’s wives, the BJP has also sought to make an issue out of Marandi’s return to the JMM. It has accused the JMM of “forcing such a senior leader to apologise before taking him back”. Bhattacharya, the
JMM general secretary, has denied this and called it propaganda. Marandi refused to comment.