Ever since the tribal-dominated Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar in 2000, the state has remained inaccessible for the Congress. The party, however, is in high spirit this time, forging a strong alliance and dividing the seats and declaring candidates on time. The credit goes to Dr Ajoy Kumar, who has been heading the party in the state since 2017.
Ajoy Kumar aka Ajoy Kumar Bhandari was born in Mangaluru in Karnataka. He passed MBBS from Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research (Jipmer) in Pondicherry in 1985. The next year he joined the IPS cadre from Bihar and earned a name for himself as a senior superintendent of police in Patna.
In the 1990s when Jamshedpur and the rest of the present Jharkhand were still part of Bihar, the steel city was reigned by thugs, legend has it that Tata Steel MD J J Irani appealed the then Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav to depute Ajoy Kumar to Jamshedpur to suppress the criminals. The officer set the steel city’s record straight during his tenure as the superintendent of police between 1994 and 1996.
Then came another twist in the career of the doctor-turned-police officer. He joined Tata Motors as an executive officer. It was not long before he quit the job and joined politics. He contested a parliamentary byelection from Jharkhand as a candidate of the Jharkhand Vikas Party in 2011 and won comfortably. He lost the election in 2014 and switched to the Congress.
Ajoy Kumar is widely credited for the excitement in the Congress camp. In contrast, the BJP offices are yet to spring to life. BJP workers, however, are still dismissive of the Congress-led coalition. They count on the Balakot air strike and Modi’s attempts to make India into a world power to translate into an election victory.
Jharkhand is probably the richest state in India due to its invaluable mineral resources yet its people remain the poorest in the country. The tribesmen are worried about the changes to the forest rights. Large swathes of the state are under the threat of Maoist insurgency.
Jharkhand has also assumed notoriety for mob lynchings by cow vigilantes. Dalits as well as people belonging to the minority communities have been killed by right-wing groups. The latest victim was Prakash Lakra, a 55-year-old tribesman, who was beaten to death by a mob who suspected him of cow slaughter.
If the BJP sees its fortunes reversed in the state, it does not have to go far to search for a reason.
Patna is relatively quieter. The pan shops of Dak Bungalow Chowk and the tea shops around the secretariat are missing the usual fiery political debates. Biharis seem to have lost interest in election analyses.
My impressions were confirmed after the first phase of election on April 11. The lowest polling percentage was reported from Bihar. Only half of the voters turned up in the polling booths.
Lalu Prasad’s son Tejaswi is at the helm of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, which has tied up with the Congress and a few other local parties in a grand alliance called Mahagathbandhan. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance includes Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (U) and Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP. Both the camps seem to be unable to make an impression in the minds of the people.
I met Shivanand Tiwari in his house. Once a trusted lieutenant of Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar, Tiwari has retired from active politics. “The people have not revealed their cards. It looks like both fronts will end up winning half the seats each,” he said. Bihar has 40 Lok Sabha seats.
Lalu Prasad is serving a prison term in Ranchi’s Birsa Munda Jail in connection with one of the fodder scam cases. Curiously, the former chief minister has managed to pervade the political discussions in the state.
His memoir, written in association with journalist Nalin Varma, has taken Bihar by storm. He has alleged that friend-turned-foe Nitish Kumar had sent feelers to join the Mahagathbandhan. Lalu Prasad has written that Nitish Kumar’s aide Prasanth Kishor visited him in jail five times with the demand. Lalu Prasad said that he turned down the request because he no longer trusted Nitish Kumar.
Biharis would be inclined to trust the words of Lalu Prasad, given the tortuous political career of Nitish Kumar, from the Socialist camp to the BJP-led government under A B Vajpayee and to the post of Bihar chief minister with BJP support, and then back to the Janata parivar and then again to the arms of Modi, whom he had declared to be a persona non grata.
“Lalu’s words could be true,” even Tiwari reflected the public sentiments. Lalu Prasad has given the Mahagathbandhan a definite edge with his timely revelation.