Crorepatis and the paupers: Jharkhand polls lay open state’s disparities

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS,

Ranchi/Jamshedpur : The gulf between the haves and the have-nots in Jharkhand has never been wider and more apparent as during this election.

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On one side of the scale are people like Dasharath Murmu, a 45-year-old tribal daily wager in Jamshedpur West, who earns a paltry Rs.70 every week from a construction that he works for.

On the other extreme are the state’s crorepati (millionaire) politicians fighting the assembly elections. According to the assets declared by politicians fighting the first and second phase of the state polls, the overall millionaire tally shows that Congress has five, followed by BJP with 3, JMM 3, JVM 3, Ajsu (All Jharkhand Students’ Union) has 3 and Independents 5.

Dasharath Murmu’s case is similar to that of many others like him. Earlier, he made Rs.150 every week, but the slump in construction trade during the economic meltdown since the beginning of this year has robbed him of nearly half his income.

“There is no work for poor itinerant tribals like me under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGA) in the district,” the poor tribal told IANS.

The scheme guarantees 100 days of employment every fiscal to one member of any rural household for unskilled manual public work at Rs.100 per day. But almost all the NREGA schemes in Singhbhum – both east and west districts – are incomplete, block officials say.

“Only those close to the JMM leaders can get work under NREGA. MY wife is ailing and can die any day. My sons work in cement quarries in Uttar Pradesh. We lost touch since they left 5 five years ago,” Murmu said.

In contrast, at least 20 Congress candidates in the fray during the first and the second phase of polls beginning Nov 25 are “money-bags”. The party boasts of five “crorepatis”, including Roshan Surin, the richest of the lot. Surin is the son of the late Congress leader Sushila Kerketta and is contesting from the Khunti assembly seat. His assets, as the politician declared this week, are worth Rs.22 crore.

Surin’s closest second is also a Congress candidate – Suresh Singh – with property worth Rs.8 crore, according to his declaration. Singh is contesting the polls from Jharia. The other “millionaire” in the Congress is the “yuvraj” or the “prince” of the erstwhile Chhotanagpur state and the sitting legislator from Hatia constituency near Ranchi, Gopal Saran Nath Singhdeo with assets worth Rs.1.41 crore, and Ranchi candidate Pradeep Tulsayan, whose assets are worth Rs.1.33 crore.

Vishnupada Mahto, a trained teacher, who has been forced to hawk vegetables in a weekly market (haat) at Hatia (near Ranchi), hits out at the system.

“Our own leaders have betrayed us. When Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar, we had great hopes. But only the JMM leaders and the tribal politicians who joined the mainstream political parties made money and forgot us. I lost my job in 1999. Hundreds of trained teachers like me are unemployed in the state,” Mahto, who was arrested during the Jharkhand statehood movement, told IANS.

“Look at the assets amassed by tribal leaders,” Mahto, in his early 40s, lashed out.

Bhim Munda, a tribal candidate from Hatia constituency is the most affluent on the list of millionaires with declared assets worth Rs.6 crore.

JMM founder Shibu Soren’s daughter in-law, Sita Soren, who is contesting from Jama, has declared assets worth Rs.1.01 crore, while the legislator from Jugsalai segment Dulal Bhuyan of JMM has declared assets worth Rs.1.18 crore.

The JMM candidate from Jamshedpur West Manohar Karmakar has declared assets worth Rs.1.38 crore.

Jharkhand Vikas Morcha’s Nirbhay Shahabadi who is contesting from Giridih has declared assets worth Rs.1.05 crore, while the party nominee from Madhupur, Shiv Dutt Sharma, has declared Rs.2.66 crore.

Abhay Singh, the JVM candidate from Jamshedpur East, has assets worth Rs.1 crore.

Navin Jaiswal of Ajsu, who is contesting from Hatia, has declared assets worth Rs.1.04 crore.

The BJP has three “crorepatis” in the race. C.P. Singh, the sitting legislator from Ranchi, has declared assets worth Rs.1.15 crore, while the candidate from Godda, Raghu Nandan’s net worth amounts to Rs.2.5 crore. The Jugsalai BJP nominee, Rakhi Rai, an astute businesswoman, has declared assets worth Rs.1.24 crore.

An independent businessman Sushil Narsaria from Ranchi has declared assets worth Rs.1.40 crore.

“We feel let down. Even with (Congress general secretary) Rahul Gandhi campaigning to alleviate poverty in the state and suggesting ways and means to help the poor, it will be the same set of leaders who will be at the helm. The rot is at the roots. Unless the commission culture ends, the state will continue to languish,” Sumanto Jena, an old resident of Seraikela bordering Orissa, told IANS.

Once a committed JMM supporter, the practitioner of alternative medicine has decided not to vote this time.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at [email protected])