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|February 11, 1998|
The seat that dislikes encores
The long-pending demand for a rail link has derailed the electoral prospects of many an aspirant in Hazaribagh and its voters have never returned a candidate twice.
While the people in Hazaribagh are not optimistic about realising their dream of being on the railway map in the near future, they insist they will readily vote for any candidate who gives at least a commitment in this regard.
Though stability and the five-decade-old demand for a separate state of Vananchal have cropped up as major election planks, the fate of the eight contestants is likely to be decided on the issue of development in this forest tract that is fast slipping into the grip of Naxalite outfits.
This sensitive constituency has remained devoid of its share of development in the past 50 years of Independence despite having an abundance forest and mineral resources.
The main contenders are Bharatiya Janata Party state chief Yashwant Sinha, veteran trade unionist and Communist Party of India nominee Bhubaneshwar Prasad Mehta, and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-Mardi legislator Tek Lal Mahato.
Also trying their fortunes are Rashtriya Janata Dal-Congress supported Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-Soren candidate Pratima Devi and Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Devki Nanand Bediya.
Muslims who constitute 150,000 in Hazaribagh have played a decisive role so far, but with the RJD opting out of the fray and leaving the seat to the JMM-Soren, they appear confused, according to political observers.
The absence of a united opposition and a possible tilt of the minorities towards the BJP may break the jinx for that party. While Niaz Ahmad, a small shop keeper at Jhanda Chowk in the ,town hopes that the BJP will arrest rising prices and provide a stable government, another, Jabib Khan, says ''Ab BJP ko bhi dekh le'' (Let us try the BJP this time).
But then, there is also the possibility of the minorities favouring Pratima Devi, who is contesting for the first time and is little known outside her own area, Mandu, which is represented in the Bihar assembly by Tek Lal Mahato, the rival JMM-Mardi contender.
Mahato's prospects have also become slightly uncertain after RJD supremo Laloo Prasad Yadav addressed a campaign meeting exhorting his partymen to rally behind Devi.
In the 1996 election, Mahato, contesting as an Independent, had managed 97,816 votes. The seat was won by Mahabir Lal Vishwakarma of the BJP who polled 237,357 votes defeating Bhubaneswar Mehta by 71,251 votes.
The BJP has replaced Vishwakarma with Sinha, who had contested from here in 1984 as a Janata Party candidate. After joining the BJP, he had successfully contested the 1995 assembly election from Ranchi and became a leader of the Opposition in the state assembly. He resigned after his name figured in the hawala scandal.
This constituency, which has changed hands frequently, has never returned any political party twice consecutively after the 1957 poll. In 1952 and 1957, it returned CPI nominees Ram Narayan Singh and I R Laxmi.
In 1962 election, the seat was won by Basant Singh of the Swatantra and in 1967 it returned Singh, but this time as an Independent candidate. The seat was wrested by Damodar Pandey of the Congress in 1971 and again by Basant Singh as a Bharatiya Lok Dal candidate in 1977 and then as a Janata Party nominee in 1980.
Damodar Pandey of the Congress had won the seat in 1984, but in 1989, the constituency returned Yadunath Pandey of the CPI.
Of the six assembly segments in this constituency, the BJP won five -- Barkagaon, Barkatha, Hazaribagh, Ramgarh and Simaria. Mandu was won by Tek Lal Mahato.
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