When Prime Minister Narendra Modi brought together his candidates for a final wave at the audience at the conclusion of his speech in Dhanbad on Tuesday, it would have left many BJP leaders uncomfortable.
For, on the PM’s right was Dhullu Mahato and some distance to his left was Sanjeev Singh. Taken together, “they represent the real muscle behind the coal business in the state”, in the words of a government official who served in Jharkhand.
Dhullu Mahato, 39, had to attach two pages to his affidavit to include the details of the seven criminal cases against him, mostly relating to assault and obstructing government officials, and including one offence under the Arms Act.
The Baghmara legislator of Babulal Marandi’s JVM(P) defected to the BJP ahead of the elections. “Dhullu controls a bike-borne group of 500-odd youngsters, called the Tiger Force,” said the government official.
Sanjeev Singh, 28, represents the young face of a family which, in turn, has come to be identified with the coal business in Jharia. And the family is now in a political feud.
Sanjeev’s father, the late Suryadeo Singh, the Janata Party MLA of Jharia during 1977-91, founded the Janata Mazdoor Sangh of coal workers. Sanjeev’s mother Kunti Devi has been the BJP MLA of Jharia for 10 years.
The family, whose house in Dhanbad is called Singh Mansion, derives its political power from the Janata Mazdoor Sangh. Musclemen of the JMS have been frequently accused of charging a fee for coal bought at auctions in Jharia, and the Tiger Force of controlling auctions in Baghmara.
Sanjeev, whose affidavit says he passed high school, is up against engineering graduate Niraj Singh, 35, of the Congress who is also his father’s late younger brother’s son. Niraj is the deputy mayor of Dhanbad. He has branched out into real estate and now controls a faction of the JMS. Niraj is widely regarded as fighting Kunti Singh and P N Singh on behalf of Bachha Singh, a former JD(U) minister of Jharkhand and another brother of Suryadeo Singh. In a sign of how fractured Singh Mansion has become, Niraj does not see eye-to-eye with his mayor Indu Singh, who is his father’s brother Ramadhir Singh’s wife. Ramadhir controls the JMS faction said to back Singh Mansion.
Niraj says of Sanjeev, “They have only two poll issues: Modi-Modi-Modi and ‘I am the son of Suryadeo Singh’.”
The family feud has had Jharia on edge, with minor clashes frequent between supporters — there was one before PM Modi’s rally, too. While talking to this newspaper, each candidate blamed the other for instigating violence, but neither promised to end it. “You tell me, who starts violence? Those who fear losing, those fighting for survival. This will be an easy win for me: Jharia knows my family since 1977; there is a Modi wave across the country,” said Sanjeev.
The other candidate with muscle power, Dhullu, is an OBC who was for long seen as a counter-force to the upper-caste stranglehold of Dhanbad — Suryadeo hailed from UP. Now the BJP has managed to bring them together, and on the same platform as the PM.
Dhullu’s defection is a major blow to Marandi, for whom he was a major fundraiser. He was in jail for about a year recently for assaulting a policeman. The fact that the BJP brought him over risking opposition barbs is a sign of his importance. All is not well, though — local newspapers reported Wednesday that Dhullu’s supporters booed P N Singh, the BJP’s Dhanbad MP, at the PM’s rally.