In its quest to emerge as the largest regional party in the 16th Lok Sabha, the All India Trinamool Congress is making an aggressive push into Jharkhand. By luring former Congress minister Chandra Shekhar Dubey on Sunday, it acquired its third legislator in the state even before the formation of a state unit.
This, on top of getting Shibu Soren’s younger brother and JMM’s Bokaro district president Lalu Soren on board.
Dubey, expelled from his cabinet by chief minister Hemant Soren on February 19th for personal attacks against him, joined the TMC in Kolkata on Sunday in the presence of general secretary Mukul Roy. He had waited to see if the Congress would give him the Dhanbad Lok Sabha ticket. With the INC’s decision to give that seat to Ajay Dubey on Saturday, decks were cleared for ‘Dadai’ Dubey to go over to the TMC and contest from Dhanbad.
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After Bandhu Tirkey and Chamra Linda — the party’s candidates for Ranchi and Lohardaga respectively — joined on March 3rd, it is as if the floodgates opened. The names of almost every leader likely to be ignored by their respective parties in ticket distribution have been associated with the TMC — Stephen Marandi of the Congress and Paulus Surin of the JMM among them.
Some of these individuals are likely to stay with their parties, but the TMC does not deny it has been talking with them. So much so, political parties across the state are waiting with pregnant indignation for the second candidates’ list of the TMC, expected on Sunday.
All this, from a party that was widely derided for a poorly-attended rally in Ranchi on January 11. The party’s Rajya Sabha MP K.D. Singh, who has since resigned from his Jharkhand seat, was the main organiser. That day also marked his first official event in Jharkhand since being elected in 2010. Singh, chairman emeritus of the Chandigarh-based Alchemist group, won as a JMM candidate under controversial circumstances before going over to the TMC in a matter of months.
The TMC appointed a state convenor in Dilip Chatterjee on February 18. “The Ranchi rally was not very important. What mattered was a February 8th rally in Dhanbad, which was well attended,” said Chatterjee. He also handles the Ranchi district office; TMC now has functioning units in Jamshedpur, Dhanbad and Bokaro districts. “We want to contest all 14 Lok Sabha seats and have finalised names for 5-6 of them. For the state assembly [elections, scheduled for 2015] too, we will have candidates for all seats,” added Chatterjee.
Before TMC, Chatterjee was a general secretary of the JMM. “I left when JMM started losing its way. Shibu Soren was increasingly silenced inside the party,” was all he was willing to say. A former central committee member of the JMM said that Chatterjee’s presence could draw JMM members to the TMC.
The TMC then, could be the major beneficiary of an anti-Hemant Soren feeling that has been building up within the JMM. Older leaders have felt alienated since Hemant’s rise began, surrounded by a coterie called the class of 2005 in these pages. These were people who associated themselves with the JMM the year Shibu Soren first became chief minister; the same year when Hemant first contested for the state assembly, and lost.
Apart from the big names, there are early indications that grassroots leaders could move to the JMM. Not merely Bengali-speaking individuals, but also Adivasi leaders are moving toward to TMC. “Only this morning did I get a call from an important functionary in the Ramgarh district unit of the JMM, asking for a TMC leader’s number,” said an individual who handles media relations for a potential Lok Sabha candidate who belongs neither to the JMM nor TMC. Shibu Soren’s elder brother Rajaram Soren too, has indicated that he would not mind a move to the TMC.
The JMM comes in the TMC’s firing line as the former’s stronghold, the Santhal Pargana region, is contiguous with West Bengal. It made its first prominent recruitment in the state five years back, inducting anti-displacement activist and party’s state women’s unit convenor Muni Hansda from Dumka. She could be the TMC’s candidate from the namesake constituency — currently held by Shibu Soren — but reportedly faces competition from Lalu Soren.
The TMC’s strong bid could have an effect in Assam, where the party is trying to gain influence among the tea tribes — originally of Jharkhand, among whom the JMM has supporters.
This scattergun approach to collecting individuals has however resulted in an explosive mix: there is Muni Hansda, who has been a crusader against the mining companies in Dumka and Pakur; Lalu Soren, whose most important quality is that he is Shibu’s brother; Bandhu Tirkey, a minister in the Madhu Koda cabinet who faces charges under the Prevention of Corruption Act and Chamra Linda, a legally declared an absconder from 2008 to 2013 in an assault case. As if this was not enough, there are reports in the regional media that Geeta Koda, legislator and wife of the former CM, could join the TMC.
The TMC in Jharkhand is hardly an advertisement the party’s brand ambassador Anna Hazare would want to be featured in. On the other hand, it is an indicator of the scale of Mamata Banerjee’s ambitions.