A whisper campaign threatens to derail Chatra’s first-ever ‘local’ candidate fielded for Lok Sabha by Babulal Marandi’s Jharkhand Vikas Manch (Prajatantrik).
Her opponents say in private that Neelam Devi, a 37-year-old housewife who was previously not known as a leader, has the support of CPI-Maoist. A top police officer said there were rumours that CPI-Maoist’s regional committee member Nakul Yadav supports her. “We cannot prove it, but I have come to know that her family is close to Nakul Yadav,” said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Another officer, differed and said, “I heard about the allegation through informal conversations. We have no such information.” For the record, Neelam’s affidavit lists no criminal cases.
The JVM(P) has ticked several boxes by fielding Neelam. Along with Geeta Kora — the Jai Bharat Samanta Party from Singhbhum — she is one of the two women candidates from the 14 Jharkhand seats with a realistic chance of victory. Congress, BJP and JMM have not nominated any woman. Neelam is the only one in JVM’s list and is going the extra mile to appeal to women voters.
What adds to Neelam’s appeal is that she is among the select candidates who resides in the constituency. No resident has ever won from Chatra. “Even when we were part of Bihar, when we had Gaya and Latehar and Chatra in the constituency, no one from here won,” said Mohammad Ehsan, the JVM(P)’s constituency in-charge. The BJP and Congress never fielded a local leader. That trend continues with the BJP fielding Bihar’s Sunil Singh and the Congress, Lohardaga’s Dhiraj Prasad Sahu.
Neelam Devi’s Yadav identity may help her in Dalit-stronghold Chatra, with Sunil Singh being a Rajput and Dhiraj Prasad Sahu, a Teli. However, the BJP is expecting a victory. “A number of Telis could end up voting for us as Narendra Modi is from the caste,” said Amit Choubey, Lamta panchayat president.
Babulal Marandi’s presence and Neelam’s resident status in Latehar could attract adivasi votes. “Recently, there was a meeting organised for adivasi voters of the constituency. I could see a lot of support for her,” said Surendra Lakra, from Latehar’s Balumath block. The BJP is worried about the influence of sitting Chatra MP and Independent Inder Singh Namdhari, who is working to defeat its candidates in both Chatra and Palamu as he was denied a BJP ticket.
Muslims could hold the key. “Muslim voters are still undecided. Their aim is to defeat BJP, so they might vote for the candidate they think is BJP’s nearest rival. The JVM(P) is trying to get them to vote for us,” said Md Ehsan.