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Rebels give Soren sleepless nights

February 19, 2005 22:45 IST

As the Jharkhand assembly election enters its third and final round on February 23, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha is facing its toughest battle on home turf, the Santhal Parganas.

Elections will be held in 28 seats in Bokaro and Dumka, besides Santhal Parganas. The JMM is contesting 18 seats while its ally Congress is fighting 13.

The JMM is crossing swords with the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Left and arch foe Bharatiya Janata Party in Santhal Parganas. But the real threat to the JMM is from the enemy within rebels led by Stephen Marandi.

Up against fellow tribal leader and first Jharkhand Chief Minister Babulal Marandi of the BJP and his 'own man' Stephen Marandi, JMM chief Shibu Soren's problems have been compounded with Cardinal Telesphore P Toppo's statement in favour of Stephen.

Soren gave his son Hemant the Dumka ticket instead of to Stephen, who has been representing the seat since 1980. Toppo, bishop of the Northern India Catholic Church, reportedly sympathised with Stephen.

Union minister and Congress leader Oscar Fernandes called on the bishop, to which the ruling BJP protested.
In a damage control exercise, the bishop later said both Hemant and Stephen were equal for him.

"Stephen's rebellion, the bishop's sympathy and Oscar's calling on the bishop within a span of 48 hours has given anxious moments to the JMM supremo," says a JMM leader.

Soren dismisses the argument, saying he has no ill-feeling towards Stephen. "I wanted him and still want him to become a national political leader. My son got the ticket due to the party's pressure and not mine."

Stephen on Friday asked the Election Commission to take cognisance of the use of his photograph on JMM banners and posters in Dumka despite his having launched a campaign as an independent.

He released a 59-point manifesto, and accused the state government of neglecting Santhali (the language of Santhals, the main tribe in Santhal Parganas). He also pledged a mini-secretariat in Dumka to befit its second capital status.

Inspired by Stephen, three more JMM leaders are contesting from Bokaro, Litipara and Jarmundi against the wishes of Soren.

The fortunes of 10 JMM members of Legislative Assembly and six of the BJP will be at stake on February 23.
"Santhal Parganas is not Soren's property. The people have watched the unfolding of Stephen Marandi episode, exposing the JMM as a party of one family. The results will be surprising in the Santhal Parganas," Babulal Marandi said.

Soren, however, countered that saying the BJP's 'divisive' politics will not work. He said the people are 'fed up with the all-round failure' of the state government.

"The BJP will take a beating this time as people will vote for the JMM, which has struggled for the statehood. We will fulfil the people's aspirations left unfulfilled by the BJP in its four-year rule," Soren said.

The Congress and the JMM alliance is facing rebel challenges in at least four seats.

Starvation, poor health facilities and drinking water problem have been the bane of Jharkhand. Starvation and cerebral malaria are key issues troubling the Santhals, prominent social activist Bajrang Singh felt.

Meanwhile, national leaders like Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and BJP chief Lal Kishenchand Advani campaigned in the state and promised the electorate a better life if their respective parties are voted to power.

Complete Coverage: Assembly Elections 2005

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