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4-min read

Sorens, JMM's First Family, Face Tough Challenge on Home Turf

At stake this time is the political prowess of Shibu Soren and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha in the 16 assembly constituencies of Santhal Paragana.

Ashok Mishra |

Updated:December 23, 2019, 12:59 PM IST
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Sorens, JMM's First Family, Face Tough Challenge on Home Turf
File photo of JMM leader Hemant Soren. (Image: Twitter)

Shibu Soren is fondly called Guruji or Dishom Guru by his followers — politicians of all hues and common people — and equally venerated by his political detractors. He has faced murder, mass murder and bribery charges but still remains the patriarch of the tribal gentry in Jharkhand, Odisha and neighbouring Chhattisgarh.

He has lost elections, yet his charisma weaves magic among the Santhals, who socially and politically dominate Santhal Pargana, the eastern region of Jharkhand contiguous to West Bengal. It is so because his sacrifices for the tribal people and the creation of Jharkhand are matchless.

But at stake this time is the political prowess of Shibu Soren and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) in the 16 assembly constituencies of Santhal Paragana, which voted in the last phase of assembly elections in Jharkhand.

The tribal heartland of Santhal Pargana has been known as the bastion of the JMM and its ‘Teer-Dhanush’ (bow and arrow) symbol has a special place in the heart of tribal people. But the creation of Jharkhand in 2000 did not bring much political success for the JMM in Jharkhand, barring its partial success in the Santhal Pargana region.

In the Narendra Modi wave in 2019, stalwarts like Shibu Soren lost to newcomers like Sunil Soren in the Lok Sabha polls. In the 2014 elections, the JMM could win only from two Lok Sabha seats out of the 14 parliamentary seats in the state. While Shibu Soren had won for the eighth term in Lok Sabha from Dumka, Vijay Kumar Hansdak won from the adjoining Rajmahal seat in the Santhal Pargana region.

As patriarch Shibu Soren keeps himself confined to his house due to severe health issues, the responsibility to save the JMM’s bastion in the Santhal Pargana region has fallen on his second son and former chief minister Hemant Soren.

The JMM’s main agenda seems to be BJP-bashing as Hemant Soren keeps reiterating that the BJP government served the interests of the rich and businessmen leaving the poor tribal in lurch. In his diatribes against incumbent Chief Minister Raghubar Das, Hemant alleges that Jharkhand cannot be developed and a CM migrated from Chhattisgarh cannot be worried for the development of the state.

The JMM is once again highlighting the issue of age-old exploitation of tribal people by the money-lenders and the mahajani pratha (usury). The mahajans were those who used to lend money to tribal people on interest and once they were caught in the vicious trap, they ended up losing everything. It was Shibu Soren, who had launched a massive campaign against usury in the early seventies, after his father was killed.

The JMM is also underlining the ‘Jal, Jamin, Jungle’ (water, land and forest) agenda to rope in the support of the tribals, who constitute nearly 35 per cent of the total population in the Santhal Pargana region. It has been fighting for the tribal rights and always tried to salvage their pride from the Dikus (the outsiders).

“The local people exist on water, forest and land and if land slips from their hand then they will lose livelihood,” Hemant says at public meetings.

To ensure victory of the party candidates, Hemant Soren had held meetings in remote areas in his home turf as the BJP poses tough contest on a large number of seats. The BJP has held numerous public meeting of its star campaigners, including Modi.

To counter the ‘Jal, Jamin, Jungle’ agenda of the JMM, the BJP has accused Shibu Soren and his family of violating the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act for pecuniary gains. CM Raghubar Das has alleged that Shibu Soren and his son Hemant failed to develop Santhal Pargana even though they represented the region for 40 years and became chief ministers.

As the political pot in Jharkhand keeps boiling, two members of the Soren family are fighting a crucial battle from three reserved assembly seats for Scheduled Tribes in the fifth and final phase of the elections. JMM president Hemant Soren is contesting from two seats — Dumka and Barhait — while his sister-in-law Sita Soren is contesting from the Jama seat.

Notably, in 2014,too Soren had contested from Dumka and Barhait, but lost Dumka to BJP candidate Louis Marandi and retained Barhait seat by defeating Hemlal Murmu of the BJP with a close margin of 24,000 votes. Incidentally, Barhait seat comes under the Rajmahal Lok Sabha constituency, which is the lone seat won by the JMM in 2019.

In Jama, Sita Soren is locked in a fierce battle with Suresh Murmu of the BJP. This seat has been a JMM bastion since long before Jharkhand came into existence. The JMM has been winning from here since 1980, barring 2005, when it went to BJP.

In 1985, Shibu Soren had won from Jama and thereafter his son Durga Soren won twice. In 2005, however, Durga lost it to BJP’s Sunil Soren. After Durga’s death, his wife Sita Soren won this seat in 2009 and 2014 making this her third election. Her winning margin though has declined from about 12,000 votes in 2009 to 2,300 votes in 2014.

Hemant, the leading member of the first family of JMM, is facing the toughest challenge in Dumka assembly seat. In 2019 Lok Sabha polls, his father Shibu Soren had lost from Dumka, a seat which he had represented seven times earlier.

Though green flags with the bow and arrow symbol and picture of Shibu Soren keep fluttering on the rooftops in Dumka, the headquarters of Santhal Pargana, it is difficult to predict whether Hemant will be able to retain his family legacy in his home turf, which appears to be facing BJP onslaught due to dwindling health of Shibu Soren.

The JMM is confident and banking on social demography of the region with 35 per cent Scheduled Tribes, 13 per cent Muslims and 16 per cent non-tribal population. On the contrary, the BJP appeared confident after passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act, which has queered the pitch for the JMM-Congress alliance.

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| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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