Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scheduled visit to Jharkhand’s Sahebganj district on April 6 to lay the foundation stone of a proposed bridge on River Ganga, has ruffled the opposition, with leaders marching to New Delhi and knocking doors of the parliament and Election Commission of India (ECI) seeking postponement.
The PM’s visit coincides with by-election at Littipara assembly constituency in neighbouring Pakur district on April 9. As per arrangements by the state government, the PM, besides inaugurating the bridge, would also announce sops for local ethnic Pahariya tribesmen and women, that include appointment letters to the newly formed Pahariya Battalion and smart phones to women.
Opposition leaders feel the whole program would directly influence voters in Littipara that happens to be main opposition, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’s (JMM) strongest bastion. Sitting legislator, Anil Murmu of JMM recently died of cardiac arrest. The seat hence fell vacant forcing ECI to hold by-poll.
Barely a couple of days after announcement of the election date, JMM suffered a severe jolt when late Anil Murmu’s widow, Uniki Eudora Hansda and daughter, Indu Murmu defected to BJP. With the PM arriving in Sahebganj, barely 120 km from Littipara, JMM is wary of losing its bastion to the saffron party.
Led by JMM’s Rajya Sabha member, Sanjeev Kumar, and Congress spokesperson, Dr Ajoy Kumar, opposition leaders met the ECI Wednesday afternoon and demanded that PM visit be postponed till the by-poll is over. Earlier in the day, Sanjeev Kumar also raised the issue in the upper house during zero hour, apprising the chair and members of how the entire program could help BJP polarize votes at the expense of public money.
“The state government has made elaborate and attractive arrangements to woo people to the PM’s program. People from Littipara, especially the Pahariya tribe, have been invited. There are approximately 27,000 Pahariya tribe voters in Littipara. The PM giving smartphones and appointment letters to them, barely two days ahead of the by-poll, is blatant way of influencing voters,” said Kumar.
The opposition leaders have also criticized the CM for announcing distribution of compensation in crores to farmers who lost their crop in the hailstorm and free houses to poor in Dumka on March 17 when the model code of conduct was in place in the neighbouring district.
State urban development minister C P Singh said, Modi has become nemesis for non-BJP parties across India. “Wonder why they are so afraid of Modi,” he said, declining that the state has violated any election norm as of date.
He said when the PM’s program was finalized, there was no scene of the by-poll. “It would be unfair to blame the PM or state government for the sheer coincidence,” the minister said.