The Congress heaved a sigh of relief after its feared vote divider-Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM)-- decided not to field its candidates from the Lohardaga assembly by-election, political observers said on Wednesday.
Lohardaga byelection is scheduled on December 14. It was necessitated after AJSU Party MLA KK Bhagat’s assembly membership was terminated in June this year following his conviction by a Ranchi court in a 1993 case of extortion and attempted murder. KK Bhagat had won the seat in 2009 and 2014 assembly elections.
The Congress, which had been waiting for the JMM candidate’s announcement with a baited breath, has fielded state Congress president Sukhdeo Bhagat from the seat. He will file his papers on November 26, the last day of filing nominations.
The JMM kept the Congress on tenterhooks till the last and announced its decision at 8 pm on Wednesday. The cause of the Congress worry was that the JMM had bagged 13500 votes in 2014.
“We have decided not to field candidate to keep the secular forces intact, the Congress didn’t act as per expectations,” said JMM working president Hemant Soren.
Political observers feel the JMM’s decision has set the ball of a possible revival of the UPA in Jharkhand that was tattered in 2014 assembly polls wherein the JMM, the Congress, the RJD had contested separately.
The NDA (BJP+AJSU Party in Jharkhand) on the other hand suffered embarrassment in putting up a united face in the polls when Ramesh Oraon, a former BJP legislator from Bishunpur filed his nomination on Tuesday without the official BJP symbol.
Oraon’s nomination is being viewed as manifestation of discontent within the district BJP unit. Many leaders of the party had lobbied hard with the BJP bosses to contest the seat citing party’s better position than the AJSU Party that had been struggling to find a winnable replacement of KK Bhagat.
The BJP first intended to field candidate but backed out to keep the NDA alliance “intact”. The AJSU Party and the BJP had a pre- poll alliance in 2014 assembly elections and are partners in the Raghubar Das led coalition government.
The NDA fielded Niru Shanti Bahagt, the wife of Bhagat whom he married a day before going to jail to serve the prison term. She filed her nomination from the seat on Tuesday.
The grassroot BJP workers in the area, however, were not pleased with the party bosses’ decision and Ramesh Oraon’s nomination as rebel is being seen as manifestation of that discontent in the local unit. It is seen as a natural corollary of the differences between apex party leaders and local ground level workers.
The JMM’s decision not to field candidate, coming on the heels of BJP rebel’s nomination may queer the pitch for the NDA which for the last two elections have seen close fights and won by small margin of 592 and 606 votes respectively. Interestingly, both the time KK Bhagat was the winner and Sukhdeo Bhagat ending up as the runner-up.