Khijri (Jharkhand): It is 3.30 pm on a winter afternoon and a rag-tag bunch of local residents have assembled for a Congress rally to be addressed by star campaigner Shatrughan Sinha in Tatisilawai here. Soon when it is announced that the actor is about to reach, the crowd swells up to a few hundred.
On the face of it, it appears that star power of the leader is the reason for the pull. But as one probes deeper, tales pour out of how factory after factory in this industrial area has either been shut down or is facing closure, rendering a large section of the population jobless. Many in the crowd would like to give the Congress a chance this time.
One hears similar stories from other industrial areas of the state.
It is clear that unemployment and economic distress would be one of the key issues in these Assembly polls and the Opposition alliance is milking it to the fullest.
Whether it is organising a press conference by former finance minister P. Chidamabarm on the economic downturn or wearing onion garlands at regular briefings, the Congress has stuck to its carefully crafted strategy of focussing only on local issues and not letting the narrative drift to Ram mandir or the abrogation Article 370 in Kashmir.
Even at political rallies, there is a concerted attempt by the opposition alliance to focus only on local issues.
“There are swathes of areas in which people have faced huge job losses. Many employed have committed suicide. The BJP has to be held accountable for this,” Belas Tirkey, local Congress leader and president of the Adivasi Congress said, addressing a rally in Khijri from where Congress’ Rajesh Kachchap is taking on sitting BJP MLA Ramkumar Pahan.
Ashok Kumar, a local resident who works at the Martin Burn Limited factory, one of the few functioning production units in the area, said, “people have lot of grudges against Rameshwar Pahan. Though he himself was an ex-employee of Martin Burns, he has done little for the people of this constituency. We are open to giving the Congress a chance in these polls.”
The Congress, which is fighting in alliance with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha of Hemant Soren and the RJD, is contesting a total of 31 seats.
Sundari Tirkey, another local leader and former president of Ranchi district Congress, who had contested the polls last time, said that though the JMM-Congress-RJD alliance considered itself stronger in rural and tribal areas, the results from semi-urban localities would also throw up surprises for the BJP.
On similar lines, Jharkhand Congress spokesperson, Alok Dubey, said, “the alliance is well on its way to form the government in Jharkhand this time.”
The key though remained in avoiding any direct personality clash with Mr Narendra Modi.
A senior AICC functionary, who has been deputed to the state, told this newspaper that instead of challenging Mr Modi, the focus has to be on local issues and incompetence of the state government, led by Chief Minister Raghubar Das, who is himself facing a tough battle in his Jharkhand east constituency....