Sudesh Mahto: Man who wants to be a kingmaker in Jharkhand
When All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU) Party leader Sudesh Mahto was elected to the Bihar assembly in 2000, he was just 25. Lalu Prasad offered him a ministerial position in return for his support to the Rashtriya Janata Dal government . Mahto says it was a big deal for someone as young as he was at the time. “I told him to count on my support if he promises to create a separate state [Jharkhand].”
Mahto and Prasad could not strike a deal. But Jharkhand’s creation in November 2000 changed Mahto’s life completely as he supported the state’s first Babulal Marandi-led government and was rewarded with a ministerial position.
Mahto, who is often clad in jeans and shirts and wears sport shoes, kept making headlines with his flamboyant lifestyle, political moves and fiery speeches in the state assembly. Mahto would often ride a bike around Ranchi and go for jogging in Jharkhand’s sleepy capital.
His youth and a mass following among the influential Kurmi community, has over the years turned him into an important player in the state’s often turbulent politics.
No chief minister until Raghubar Das, who was voted to power in 2014 ,has been able to complete a full five year term. Fractured verdicts ensured that Mahato remained the kingmaker to the successive Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governments.
The AJSU Party fought the 2005 and 2009 assembly elections on its own and managed enough seats--five--to ensure that BJP could not come to power without Mahto. He was rewarded with key portfolios and even the deputy chief minister’s post in 2009 as he supported the BJP.
The AJSU Party is again contesting the staggered November-December assembly elections in the state on its own.
A BJP leader, who was a part of the negotiations with Mahato, said that the party offered him 11 out of 81 seats but he had other plans.The BJP and the AJSU Party have a common support base among the Kurmis.
“Indigenous people faced many issues in the undivided Bihar and the creation of a separate state [Jharkhand] led to hopes that things would change. They have not actually,” Mahto said. He blames the BJP governments for failing to address the issues of the state.
“I am not an opportunist,” said Mahto . “I kept raising the issues inside the assembly and even outside. I asked the chief minister how can I return to people seeking their support when I have not been able to solve their issues.”
Mahto’s strategy appears to be again to get enough seats to play the kingmaker. “See the results of Maharashtra and Haryana [where BJP fell short of majority]. Do not they tell you a story different from what the BJP is telling you?” he asked.
Mahto has roped in some prominent leaders such as former Congress state unit president Pradeep Balmuchu and ex-BJP legislator Radha Krishna Kishore to get a foothold in areas where his party has not be strong.
He aims to field candidates in about 45 seats and hopes that his party’s -- and his -- performance would improver this time. Mahto lost the 2014 assembly election and also a bye-election later. He knows he cannot afford to lose again, as he contests from Silli assembly seat.
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