The Left’s continued support to Jharkhand Party (Naren) candidate over the Congress candidate at Jhargram caused a public spat at a Congress rally on Sunday. While both parties allege that the other is betraying the terms of their ‘alliance’, occupying the centre stage is JKP(N)’s Chunibala Hansda.
Last week, Chunibala submitted her nomination at Jhargram after a rally with local CPI-M leaders. While some of her campaign banners and wall murals have her own party’s symbol, most have the Left’s sickle-and-hammer.
The Congress, meanwhile have fielded a local doctor, Subrata Bhattacharya, as the Jhargram candidate. On Sunday, Congress state president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury was present in the seat to campaign for his candidate, while CPI-M secretary Surya Kanta Mishra came out in support of Hansda.
Chowdhury appeal to the Left, to repay the party’s “generosity”, narrowly prevented an all-out attack on their allies at a public rally at Jhargram on Sunday. But what has the Congress most worried about Left’s support of Hansda, is her continued influence in the tribal heartland at Jhargram – that accounts for 30 percent of the population here.
Chunibala Hansda’s husband, Naren Hansda had founded the JKP (N). JKP (N) began initially as a faction of the Jharkhand Party formed in 1949 and centred around the prime demand for a separate Jharkhand state. In 2008, Hansda had created an uproar in the Assembly when she demanded that West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia be ceded to Jharkhand, causing Purulia legislator Rabindranath Hembram of the CPM demanded she be expelled from the Assembly. Naren Hansda, an influential Santali leader in West Midnapore’s Junglemahal, opposed the ruling Left parties and was initially in an alliance with the BJP and TMC for decades, when Mamata formed the prime opposition in the state.
Chunibala took over the party after her husband’s death and was the prime cause of the fallout between TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee and the now-convicted Chhatradhar Mahato. In 2011, TMC had initially wanted to field Mahato from Binpur Assembly segment, and later chose to back Hansda. In 2011, she came second, but quickly established herself as a ‘true tribal’ leader, moving freely through Maoist-controlled forest areas, campaigning on a cycle and reaching out to tribal villages.
But even in the days before 2011, when the Left Front’s grasp on Jangalmahal was unchallenged – they could never dent Chunibala Hansda’s vote percentage. “What is most worrying is that her candidature, makes the Congress candidate null and void. The tribal votes constitute a massive percentage of vote share in Jhargram