Rebel BJP candidate Rai puts Jharkhand CM on a backfoot in his pocket-borough

Saryu Rai claimed that BJP denied ticket owing to his closeness to Nitish Kumar and for his fight against corruption in the ruling BJP government led by Das. Photo: File Photo

Ahead of the second-phase polls in Jharkhand on December 7, Bharatiya Janata Party’s rebel candidate Saryu Rai has cast a shadow on five-time MLA and incumbent chief minister Raghubar Das ‘safe’ seat in Jamshedpur East.

Rai (68) has been a two-time MLA from Jamshedpur West constituency and has served as the minister for food and civil supplies in Das’s cabinet.

Also read: Failed to keep promises, BJP dwells on ‘magic’ to win Jharkhand elections

After the BJP denied ticket to Rai, he decided to contest as an Independent candidate against the Chief Minister, a seat which Das has held since 1995.

Rai enjoys the support of people like Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’s Hemant Soren, Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament Subramanian Swamy among others.

He claimed that BJP denied ticket owing to his closeness to Nitish Kumar and for his fight against corruption in the ruling BJP government led by Das. He had raised concerns over the ownership rights to people living in unauthorised colonies.

Also read: Jharkhand records 63.5% polling in first phase; test for BJP after Maha fiasco

Rai, a native of Buxar in Bihar, is widely known for his crusade against corruption. His expose on multi-crore mining scam led to the jailing of former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda. And his expose on the fodder scam led to the arrest of former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav. So, he relatively enjoys a clean image in the state.

Jharkhand CM Raghubar Das campaining in East Jamshedpur for the upcoming polls. Photo: The Federal

Even as national leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a beeline to campaign for Das, Rai garnered support from a large section of party workers, including those who were sidelined by the party since 2014.

The constituency comprises of two parts — the planned industrial area established by Tata Group’s founder Jamsetji Tata and 86 urban slums inside and outside the Tata area. While the industrial area and the township is largely developed, the urban slums lack development and they play a crucial role during polls.

“We elected Raghubar Das successive times hoping that he would keep up the promise of giving us the land rights. But till today we haven’t got any. So why shouldn’t we vote for a change this time. Rai seems to be a person who fights corruption and he has promised he will give us land rights, much on the lines of Delhi government,” says Balram Namta, a senior citizen living in one of the urban slums in the constituency.

Another resident, Ratan Dey, who runs a restaurant in the city says, “We want to see a change. In a partly developed city like this, all that Das had to put was little effort and lift our lives. But he hasn’t done it.”

While the BJP is going with ‘Ghar Ghar Raghubar’ slogan and campaign on the lines of ‘Ghar Ghar Modi’, in Jamshedpur East ‘Ghar Ghar Saryu’ resonates among voters.

While the BJP and Das are claiming votes based on Ayodhya verdict and abrogation of Article 370 that gave special rights to Kashmiris, Rai has focussed on local issues and corruption. The larger mood against the BJP on its failure to deliver social welfare schemes, adds to the Rai’s support base.

Also read: To retain Jharkhand, BJP has to choose real issues over Hindutva

Congress candidate Gourav Vallabh during a bike rally. Photo: The Federal

Also, his fight against the CM has reduced the clout of Congress candidate Gourav Vallabh who’s a professor at Xavier School of Management, Jamshedpur.  Vallabh, a first-generation politician rose to fame after his question of how many zeroes are there in trillion, that he posed to BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra, went viral. His questions was in light of Narendra Modi’s government’s claim that India will be a $5 trillion economy by 2024.

While Vallabh raises issues of unemployment, air-pollution in the city, rising onion-prices, the larger fight between two BJP heavyweights – Das and Rai — has taken away the local issues that’s visible on ground. Political analysts say vote division within the BJP support base for Rai and Das might not benefit Vallabh.

The opposition JMM which is in alliance with the Congress, openly supports Rai instead of Vallabh. JMM claimed its support to Rai is on moral grounds for his fight against corruption and the party cannot force its ally Congress to withdraw Vallabh’s candidature. However, it will help the Congress with Jamshedpur West seat that is left vacant by the Rai’s shift in constituency.

Meanwhile, senior BJP leader Subramanian Swamy tweeted in support of Roy. “It is sad that JP’s then young associate and now most prominent and honest minister of the BJP government in Jharkhand, Saryu Rai has been denied BJP ticket for no good reason. Now he is an independent candidate against the CM in the imminent election for Assembly,” Swamy said in the tweet.

The political dynamics could change if Rai beats Das who is hoping to retain the seat for the sixth consecutive term.

Bornali Kormuka, a 35-year-old woman who takes care of a temple in the constituency, and whose husband is a party worker in the BJP says, “Until Rai rebelled, we were clear who to vote. But the fight that Saryu Rai has put in the city has left us confused.”

Also read: Poverty, hunger, deaths: Aadhaar, systems fail the poor in Jharkhand