Chief Minister Raghubar Das campaigns in Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand on Sunday. (PTI)
DRAWING LESSONS from Assembly elections in other states, the Congress is trying hard to keep its campaign in Jharkhand state-centric, but its leaders are treading cautiously on issues that could lead to polarisation. So while its manifesto promises a stringent law to deal with cases of lynching, there is tactical silence on the ground.
While Jharkhand has seen many incidents of mob violence in the past few years, party leaders say it is prudent to avoid such topics.
Take the case of Ramgarh, where one Alimuddin Ansari was lynched by a mob in June 2017 on the suspicion that he was carrying beef. At the main market in Ramgarh, people remember the incident but believe it is not an election issue.
Mamta Devi, the Congress candidate, told The Indian Express, “We are not raising this issue now. Because my opponent... Ek jaati vishesh pe yeh log thoda se brahmit kar dete hain antim charan main jis se vote convert ho jate hain turant (They try to mislead people towards the end of the campaign and votes convert instantly). So we are not raising the issue now.”
Ramgarh falls in Hazaribagh Lok Sabha constituency and local MP Jayant Sinha had triggered a controversy when he garlanded eight men convicted in connection with Ansari’s lynching. Although a fast track court sentenced 11 people to life imprisonment, eight of them secured bail from Jharkhand High Court.
“We will raise the issue towards the end, moment dekh karke is mudde ko uthayenge. Yeh log Hindu-Muslim kar dete hain... Bas yahi vajah se... sahi time pe uthayenge,” Devi said.
In Jamtara, about 60 km from Dhanbad, Congress candidate and sitting MLA Irfan Ansari, too, is careful. Ansari has in the past been critical of the BJP government over incidents of lynching. He was in news some time ago when a BJP minister was caught on camera asking him to chant Jai Shri Ram outside the Assembly.
Ansari told The Indian Express that he had been trying to give a voice to the marganialised — whether they are tribals, minorities or scheduled castes. Asked about lynchings, he says, “Yeh mudda nahin hain hamare kshetra main...mudda aaj Jharkhand bachane ka hain. Log samajh rahe hain ki hum awaaz uthake bhi kya kar lenge, meri awaaz kaun sunega... Our government will be formed. Then we will take action.”
But the entry of AIMIM is worrying the Congress in seats with a substantial Muslim population. In Barkagaon near Hazaribagh, some Congress workers have joined AJSU. “The Congress is not raising the lynching issue. This is the problem. If they raise it as an election issue... Hindu Muslim ho jayega,” said Arif Raja, who joined AJSU earlier in the day. Raja then enthusiastically says Owaisi will soon address meetings in Hazaribagh. “I will go to listen to him,” he says. His friend mischievously adds, “In an AJSU vehicle.”
The silence of the Congress and other parties on issues like lynching is disconcerting for the Muslim community but some of them say they understand electoral compulsions. In Hazaribagh, Md Jainul says he has no complaints with sitting BJP MLA and the party candidate Manish Jaiswal. “There is no hesitation in lauding someone if he does some good work,” he says.
Asked about lynching, he says, “Hum nahin bhule hain. Zehen main toh hain...aur dekhiye kya hota hain (We have not forgotten. Let’s see what happens).”
At the neighbouring tea shop, Abdul Bazar, who owns a motor winding shop, says, “Muslim votes will not go to one party... Sab log thoda thoda le jayega. ...Drinking water is an issue. Power cuts are also very frequent... the bill has also gone up.”
The Congress, meanwhile, is keeping its campaign state-specific. “Even Rahul Gandhi devoted 80 per cent of his speech to local issues,” a senior party leader said. Press conferences by national spokespersons, a regular affair in other states, are fewer in Jharkhand. So far, only four senior leaders, including P Chidambaram and Manish Tewari, have addressed press conferences. “You people will ask national questions to them. You will ask about Modi... state issues will get buried,” a state Congress leader said.
Ramgarh, Barkagaon and Hazaribagh are among 17 seats that go to polls in the third phase of Assembly polls on December 12.