In West Singhbhum’s Saranda range of forest, home to 7,000 tribal families spread over 56 villages, the fight is actually between Congress heavyweight Jairam Ramesh and former CM and sitting MP Madhu Koda.
The choice looks easy between Chitrasen Sinku – backed by Ramesh’s push for Rs. 250-crore-a-year Saranda Development Plan to build roads and houses in the villages and distribute cycles and solar lights among the people – and independent Geeta Koda shouldering her husband’s legacy of scams.
But the reality is different. However unfathomable the voter’s mind may be, Madhu Koda is feted as ‘Vikashpurush’ in these areas, while Ramesh is called a ‘showbaaz’.
At Lailor panchayat, the villagers gave credit to Ramesh for distributing cycles, radios and solar lights, but said what they needed most was water, which is scarce in the area, besides schools, hospitals and jobs.
“Most solar lights have stopped working and radios don’t catch any frequency,” Etwar Gop, a Lailor villager, told HT.
Ramesh had come up with his Saranda plan in 2011. As it was once a Maoist-dominated area, the idea was to strengthen the infrastructure to stop the rebels from regrouping.
But in the past two years, while solar lights and cycles were distributed, nothing has been done on the other major initiatives, such as industrial design centres and residential schools.
The tribal population now remembers Ramesh more for his helicopter visits -- he flew in these areas seven times since 2011. Even Congress workers agree the minister’s brainchild, the Saranda plan, is more hype than substance.
“There has been too much talk about SDP but not much work on the ground,” a congress worker said on condition of anonymity
Madhu Koda, on the other hand, is ahead of Ramesh in popularity because of his role in building road networks, bridges and ITIs in the area during his tenure as CM between 2006 and 2008.
Koda’s posters along with his wife asking for votes dominating the area speak for his popularity. The tribals here believe the former CM was implicated as he was seriously working for the development of the area.
“By voting for his wife, we want to show our respect for him,” said Aaya Ram Nayak, who is a proud owner of a cycle distributed by Jairam Ramesh.