Jharkhand’s Icchagarh assembly seat paints a dismal picture of poor governance with its large population living in abject poverty and deprived of basic amenities, analysts say. The Samajwadi Party is hoping local residents seeking some divine intervention would turn to its candidate, Sitaram Baba – a spiritual leader with nearly 100,000 followers, who’s likely to give a tough fight to sitting JVM-P legislator Arvind Singh, alias Malkhan Singh.
Dressed like Shirdi’s Sai Baba, the 57-year-old guru says he can cure AIDS and has been forced into contesting the polls by his supporters. “I had never ever thought of donning a politician’s cap.”
He initially tried his luck with the BJP, but says the party dumped him after a couple of weeks.
Icchagarh lies in the Seraikela-Kharswan district dominated by the Kurmis – designated as one of the other backward classes (OBCs). Malkhan Singh has won the seat twice despite hailing from an upper caste, Rajput family. SP leaders say Sitaram, who offers spiritual services to disciples at a Kali temple built by him, has a large OBC following that will vote for him on December 9.
Samajwadi Party has never been a force in Jharkhand. Though it has fielded candidates in successive assembly polls, none of them have ever come close to winning a seat.
“It’s the misfortune of the BJP that they failed to take Baba along,” said close associate and disciple Bipin Banerjee, who earlier worked for the BJP. “Baba will prove to be an asset for Samajwadi Party.”
Sitaram started as an astrologer but gradually metamorphosed into a spiritual guru with his popularity spreading across states and even globally, followers say. More than 70,000 volunteers have signed up over 10 years for a reach-out programme launched by him under the banner of Manav Kalyan Sadasyata Abhiyan (MKSA).
“Unlike political workers who contribute and associate for vested interests, MKSA volunteers work selflessly with the sole motto to serve people. This force will win the election for me,” said Sitaram, as supporters took turns to touch his feet.