Samir featured in NDTV blog on ‘Voters ignore the bait’, 2009

by Mayur Shekhar Jha 
April 23, 2009
Link to original website

We want development, not hollow promises, says a sleepy town in Jharkhand. The promise of a steel plant is not good enough. People’s will or steel – that is how I can sum up the mood of Godda, in Jharkhand, which borders the state of Bihar. The promise of development seems to be the bone of contention between the Congress and BJP.

In my previous report, ‘In the name of Development’, I had found that in the tribal dominated areas around Ranchi, the capital of the newly formed state of Jharkhand, voters are apprehensive that they will lose land and other means of livelihood in the garb of development. Resistance to industrialisation, I found, was more than evident. On the other hand, in the areas around Godda, north of Ranchi, and other bordering districts of Bihar, it is the development promise that is the core poll plank. Both the main candidates in Godda, Nishikant Dubey of BJP and Furqan Ansari of Congress, have promised a world of development to voters in the area.

The Godda parliamentary constituency has ample coal and iron ore mining, the key raw materials for steel production. In fact, Lalmatia Collieries, situated in Godda, is the country’s second largest coal hub, next only to the mines in Dhanbad, another district in Jharkhand. BJP’s candidate Dubey has a known affiliation with Essar Steel.

Some top leaders who are part of Dubey’s campaign management say that a large number of young voters in the constituency have been attracted to him, with the promise that if he wins, he will strive to set up a huge steel facility in the constituency. And here comes the bait – the promise to generate employment for more than 10,000 youngsters in the area. Dubey was not available for comment, as he was busy campaigning ahead of the voting on April 23.

On the other hand, his Congress rival Ansari is also focussing on a development based communication. “It will be a Congress-led government at the centre. Why only one steel factory, I will strive for all round economic prosperity in the area. At the same time, I will ensure that no one gets displaced from his roots. Our focus is, and will always remain on inclusive growth,” Ansari told me, hoping that voters will give him the mandate for a second term. At the same time, Ansari is taking a dig at the prospects Godda might meet, in the eventuality of electing a ‘corporate person.’

“He is more interested in representing interests of his company, and not that of people of Godda. He wants to win, he can facilitate his company to make use of the rich coal reserves of Godda,” he said. For once, it appeared to me as I drive through the constituency, there were enough believers for his charge.

Poll watchers say that issues in Godda are bound to be different from those in areas around Ranchi. “Godda does not have much arrable land, and mining is the main source of the economy. Promise of industrial development is bound to attract more youth in Godda,” says Samir Saran, vice-president, Observer Research Foundation. Saran is working on a study on urbanisation in Bihar and Jharkhand.

The socio-economic profile of Godda is also significantly different from that of areas such as neighbouring Torpa and Khunti, on the outskirts of Ranchi. While tribals constitute majority population in these areas, Godda has a substantial chunk of Brahmin and Muslim voters. Of a total of about 12.5  lakh voters in the constituency, there are about 3.25 lakh Brahmins and about 2.8 lakh Muslims. There are also large number of Thakurs and OBCs. Tribal population in the constituency is estimated at just about 1 lakh.

(Mayur Shekhar Jha was travelling in Jharkhand last week, ahead of the day of voting on April 23)

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