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Lok Sabha Elections 2019: BJP’s gamble with ex-CM Arjun Munda makes Khunti contest riveting

In Khunti Lok Sabha seat, the BJP has taken the risk to drop its eight-term sitting MP Karia Munda to try Jharkhand’s ex-chief minister Arjun Munda.

budget Updated: May 01, 2019 17:10 IST
Bedanti Saran
Bedanti Saran
Hindustan Times, Ranchi
lok sabha elections 2019,khunti LS seat,arjun munda
BJP leader and former Jharkhand chief minister Arjun Munda with party supporters after getting ticket to contest from Khunti constituency in Lok Sabha elections, in Khunti, Thursday, March 28, 2019. (PTI)

Dominated by tribal and Christian populace, the Khunti Lok Sabha seat has become one of Jharkhand’s high profile parliamentary constituencies as the state’s three-term chief minister and BJP’s tallest tribal face Arjun Munda has thrown his hat into the ring.

The seat is a reserved one for scheduled tribe candidates.

A BJP stronghold since 1989, people of the constituency have shown indomitable faith towards the saffron party by electing its candidate Karia Munda for eight terms.

The parliamentary seat had been represented either by Congress or BJP except in 1971 and 1980 when Jharkhand Party’s Niral Enem Horo won the elections.

The upcoming Lok Sabha election in Khunti, however, is going to be a popularity test for BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi for two specific reasons - first, the BJP has taken the risk to drop its eight-term sitting MP Karia Munda to try Jharkhand’s ex-chief minister Arjun Munda; second, Congress, backed by opposition’s grand alliance, has fielded Kalicharan Munda, a member of the same Munda tribe community members.

The constituency will go to polls in the fifth phase on May 6. Political experts say unlike previous elections, it would not be a cakewalk for BJP in Khunti due to a number of social and economic factors.

Read | Lok Sabha 2019 constituency: Maoist-hit Khunti is one of most backwards seats in Jharkhand

Real issues

The region, a hotbed of Maoist insurgency, is still underdeveloped, with a 64% literacy level. “Education, unemployment, health, drinking water, road, electricity, mobile connectivity and other issues are a cause of concern but these problems never became the poll agenda of any political party,” said 22-year-old Amar Sao from Khunti’s Arki block, who completed industrial training from a Rourkela institute. However, the MPLAD (member of parliament local area development) fund data till February 2019 says the sitting MP has utilised 84.34% of the total funds released by the union government.

Political experts say, “The region recently witnessed the worst ever separatist movement--Pathalgadi, which had a good support of tribal population.”

The experts further say “People’s resentment against the government was mainly due to underdevelopment. Besides, people feel that the government wanted to alienate them from their land by amending tenancy laws.”

Pathalgadi was a practice of raising huge stone plaques at village outskirts with warnings and declarations inscribed on it. The plaques declared village gram sabha the only sovereign authority.

It banned entry of outsiders in the village. Groups of young men equipped with traditional weapons watched over these ‘unofficial frontiers’. The movement was quelled after the arrest of its leaders last year.

Experts also say that due to unemployment and low income generation, poppy cultivation on farm land is on the rise. “No mega project was launched in this region to alleviate the issue of employment. Nothing was done to exploit the huge tourism potential of the region,” experts say.

Highlighting another sociopolitical issue, they say, “The Christian population too are not happy with the government which enacted an anti-conversion law.”

Political Scenario

The Khunti Lok Sabha seat comprises the six reserved assembly constituencies of Kharsawan, Tamar, Torpa, Khunti, Simdega and Kolebira, currently represented by NDA and UPA in equal proportion. The BJP was recently defeated at the hands of Congress in the Kolebira by-poll, held in December, 2018.

A direct fight is now evident between BJP and Congress. Going by the persona and work experience of the two candidates, BJP’s Arjun Munda has an upper hand. Besides, he has an open support of parliamentarian Karia Munda, who is campaigning for him.

While Arjun Munda has vast political experience of serving as the state’s chief minister for three terms and also representing the Jamshedpur Lok Sabha seat once, Congress’s Kalicharan Munda is yet to taste victory. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, he stood third. Arjun Munda too was defeated in 2014 assembly elections from Kharsawan seat.

Kalicharan hails from a political family. His father T Muchirai Munda was a Congress MLA. His younger brother Neelkant Singh Munda, is a minister in the incumbent BJP government.

It will be a big challenge for the two brothers to maintain utmost allegiance towards their respective parties.

Social structure

The constituency is dominated mostly by scheduled tribe and Christian population which accounts for 64% of the total population.

The remaining 36 per cent population is dominated by Mahatos, who inhabited the areas of Kharsawan and Tamar. The business community comprising Teli and Sao are also present across the constituency in good numbers.

BJP’s Arjun Munda, who carries a soft and acceptable to all image, is banking on every section of the society.

“Development is my first priority. I have been always fighting for tribal issues and their problems,” Arjun Munda further said.

“The former CM had openly opposed the state government’s move to amend the Chhotanagpur Tenancy/Santhal Pargana Tenancy Acts. The government later withdrew its decision. The tribal population of this area would definitely vote for him,” said Kali Munda, a Khunti resident.

First Published: May 01, 2019 16:44 IST