Uma Soren, 28, doctor-turned-TMC candidate from Jhargram, campaigns with 12 vehicles and 30 commandos around her, and refuses to come out of her SUV to interact with voters at Nayagram, a rocky, forested area at the junction of three states — Orissa, Jharkhand and Bengal — that is regularly frequented by Maoists.
“I have nothing to say; speak to my party leaders,” Soren responds when asked about her experience as a first-time candidate, handpicked by Mamata Banerjee.
While Mamata hopes that her party will do extremely well in Junglemahal, with rebel leader Kishenji killed within six months after she assumed power, there’s a fear of retaliation. Junglemahal has five constituencies: Jhargram, Midnapore, Bankura, Bishnupur and Purulia. The district and police administration officials say they have to be ready to fight an “invisible enemy”. “CPI(Maoist) leaders Akash, Bikash, Ranjit Paul, Jayanta often come here; we have proof of that. Our special operations group missed Bikash at least thrice during the last one year which shows they are not sitting idle,” says a police official, adding Maoist posters calling for a poll boycott have been found in Purulia.
Vara Vara Rao, a Maoist ideologue, says, “The boycott call is valid for the entire country and Bengal is not out of that.”
Going by the results of the last panchayat polls in which the TMC won 80 per cent of the seats and all the three zilla parishads, Mamata may be eyeing for a rich haul of LS seats.
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Says Swarup Bhattacharya, TMC leader in charge of Soren’s campaign, “Soren is part of a 35-member team of doctors and nurses working in tribal areas of Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Jharkhand and Bengal. That is how she caught Didi’s attention.” The party’s website says that “if she is elected,… she will be the first Santhal woman MP of India”.
Dulal Murmu, MLA from Nayagram, defends Soren’s reclusive behaviour. “She is young, new to politics, and has been fielded from Jhragram, once a Maoist hotbed. Her fear is justified,” says Murmu. Soren’s father was a group D employee in the Indian Railways.
Her closest rival is CPM’s Dr Pulin Behari Baskey, the sitting MP. In 2009, Baskey had won by 3.5 lakh votes, the highest for any Left candidate. “Tribals are our traditional voters. In 2009, amid Maoist violence and boycott calls, the tribal turnout was 90 per cent. And they had to pay for supporting us. At least 250 of our supporters have been killed. Now we see violence by the ruling party, as all Maoists leaders have joined the TMC. We fear booth capturing,” says Baskey.
Congress candidate Anita Hansda is the daughter-in-law of Subodh Hansda, a former central minister. “Our family has remained loyal to the Congress,” claims Anita. Her brother-in-law Dr Sukumar Hansda is a TMC minister.
In Bankura, nine-time MP and senior CPM leader Basudeb Acharia is dismissive of the Congress and his TMC rival, actor Moon Moon Sen. “We will win comfortably,” he says.
In Purulia, Congress MLA Nepal Mahato is seen as the strongest contender after sitting Left MP Narahari Mahato.