Asked whether he will vote, Moransingh Bodra grins widely. Two friends accompanying the 25-year-old returning from the weekly market on the Jharkhand-Orissa border disappear into the background when they see this reporter, a stranger to them.
Their behaviour captures the general mood within the 850 sq km Saranda forest in Jharkhand, exuberance mixed with distrust.
Moransingh is from Tirilposi in Digha panchayat of Manoharpur block, once the Maoist Eastern Regional Bureau headquarters. For almost a decade villages like Tirilposi were forced to boycott elections. This time, voter identity cards have reportedly been issued even in about 110 previously unrecognised villages.
Congress hopes people of Singhbhum Lok Sabha constituency will reward it on April 17 for the Saranda Development Plan (SDP) inaugurated on December 2, 2011. The Rs 250-crore SDP came after a massive sanitation operation by security forces.
The Congress, however, may not get the expected benefit from SDP, the reason being infighting within the local party unit though several villages have traditional Congress supporters.
Earlier this month, Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, the driving force behind SDP, visited Saranda as a Congress campaigner. “During his earlier visits, Jairam Ramesh never conducted a meeting under the Congress’s banner in Saranda. He wanted people to see development first,” said Sushil Barla, general secretary of the Congress district unit.
However, there was thin attendance when Jairam Ramesh started addressing a meeting for candidate Chitrasen Sinku. Some local Congress leaders blamed poor communication for the low turnout while some villagers said strife within the party ensured no transportation was arranged for people.
There are talks of a section of the party tacitly supporting independent candidate Geeta Koda, wife of former chief minister Madhu Koda.
There are several villages like Digha populated by adivasi Christians, traditionally Congress supporters. “We will vote for Congress. But we expect more from the party,” said Niyaran Topno, the Munda of Digha. Incomplete work and unpaid dues could backfire on the Congress.
Incomplete work and unpaid dues may work against the Congress.
Ten Integrated Development Centres, where multiple government offices would be located, were planned. Only one at Digha has been completed.
“I accept work has been slow. Only five of the 11 roads have been built. However, work must go on,” said Jairam Ramesh at Manoharpur.
“No Additional Rozgar Sewak has received Rs 3,000 pay in 14 months,” said Jablun Dodray, Additional Rozgar Sewak for Digha.
Then there is fear of mining uprooting people. “Nineteen mining MoUs were signed within Saranda and are in various stages of clearance. People worry whether SDP will clear the way for mining here,” said a political leader.
Rayal Nag, one of the 200 selected from Saranda under a SAIL-sponsored ITI course in Orissa’s Rourkela said, “If mines open, I might get a job.” Nag hails from Digha.