May 4, 2014, Javed Iqbal
A Marxist Coordination Committee party office in Wasseypur, Dhanbad of Jharkhand.
There are 17 independent candidates and 15 party-affiliated candidates in the Dhanbad-Bokaro Lok Sabha seat in Jhakrhand, which went to the polls on the 24th of April, 2014, where there were often long queues. Before polling day, there were more makeshift election offices in Muslim-dominated Wasseypur in Dhanbad than there were schools, health centers and anganwaadis.
When you enter Wasseypur’s main road before polling day, it was carnival season. Every party, from the Congress, the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha, the Trinamool Congress, to the Marxist Coordination Committee have two to three to four or five makeshift offices, one after another, opposite one another, with of course the exception of the Bharatiya Janta Party, who’ve just put up their flags, and the Aam Aadmi Party, who has no visibility. All cramped, competing for space, and in every other moment another party vehicle passes by blaring songs and exhortations, trying to win the favour of the Muslim voter.
In a free school Disha Education Center, run by human rights lawyers, government servants and small businessmen, a voter awareness camp was run on the 15th of April, after children were asked to bring their parents to the meeting. Little children were made to recite three things to their mothers, sisters and grandmothers (no men showed up) –1. ‘Vote dehna chahiye,’ (You should vote) 2. ‘Vote acha candidate ko dena chahiye’, (Vote for a good candidate) 3. ‘Agar acha candidate nahi hai, toh NOTA button dabana chahiye(If there’s no good candidate, then press the NOTA button).’
One boy kept getting the third part wrong, ‘Agar acha candidate nahi milta to?(What if there are no good candidate?) ’ Asked a teacher.
‘Vote nahi dehna chahiye! (You shouldn’t vote)’
Speaking to the mini-meeting of the women from Wasseypur, all from BPL families, they had no idea about who their incumbent candidate was, or who was going to win, or anything about this ‘Modi wave’. They did not know that Lok Sabha Minister Pushpati Nath Singh from the BJP, won the previous elections with 58,047 votes defeating second place Chandrashekhar ‘Dadai’ Dubey of the Congress (who is now running on a TMC ticket), nor did they know that their Congress candidate is Alok Dubey. Nor did they know who was AK Rai, a charismatic Marxist trade unionist, three time MLA, and three time MP from Dhanbad, who is responsible for the organized coal miners in Dhanbad to earn around Rs.40,000 to Rs,60,000 a month, who’re the only miners in the country who talk about the stock market while having their chai breaks. AK Rai, is today in the twilight of his life, who still managed 85,457 votes in 2009 without campaigning for a single day, with the rumour that his election campaign budget was Rs.25,000.
He was recently in the news (or minimal news), after dacoits had robbed his landlord’s home at Noondih village, in January, taking Rs.2,600 and his prized HMT watch, literally making him bankrupt. He responded that they were probably ‘more needy’ than he was, and it is a known fact that he had refused the Minister’s pension, advocating that none should ever receive one.
This year though, Israr Khan, a trade unionist in the Footpath Rozirote Parjan Sangh, himself from Wasseypur, is confident that the new generation of the Marxist Coordination Committee, with teacher/organizer/farmer Anand Mahato, as their candidate, along with support from the Nitesh Kumar’s JD-U, is going to challenge the big powerhouses who’ve written off the Marxist Coordination Committee. Anand Mahato, 68 years old, has all those criminal cases to his name, that a leader of people’s movements against displacement has, from sedition to obstructing public servants to rioting; most relating to the shutting down of the Sindri Colliery where 10,000 workers were kicked out of their jobs in the year 1995-1996. He was the sitting MLA from Sindri during the confrontation with the CCL, and was even imprisoned for ‘andolan’ activities.
Israr Khan, or ‘Mister Khan’ as he is known, used to be a Congress worker until the party was responsible for the demolition of countless shops on the streets of Dhanbad in 2004. He joined the Marxists eight years ago and is obviously one of the reasons there are countless red flags in Wasseypur, competing with Saffron, the Tiranga and the Yellow-Green of Jharkhand Vikas Morcha. ‘Joh log thode samajdaar hote hai, woh Marxvadi soch mein aa jaate hai (Those people who are a little intelligent end up believing in Marxist ideas)’, he responds to the question of acceptability of Marxism amongst the Muslims of Dhanbad, who’re visibly more affected by the Mafia than by the Marxvadis.
In their election offices in Wasseypur, almost all the people who’ve moved towards the MCC, are disgruntled ex-Congress workers or ex-JVM workers, or unorganized workers, who’re visibly angry with both the Congress and the BJP, and the lack of development in the area.
Israr Khan has himself been making efforts to build a base amongst the Muslims of Wasseypur, to add to the MCC base of coal miners, displaced populations, safai karmacharis and adivasis across Dhanbad and Bokaro district. Their mandate has displacement first, and then corruption, communalism and inflation, and with countless coal mines in the district, and lands that are meant to be returned to the adivasis, there is a strong belief amongst them that the party will do well in the coming elections. On the 14thof April, over 5,000 people had congregated in a MCC public meeting for ashahadat divas for Gurudas Chatterjee, an MCC MLA who was murdered by the coal mafia in 1998, (the meeting was of course reported by no local media except Hindi-daily Prabhat Khabar).
In Wasseypur, the Muslim votes are divided. While all parties are confident they will get the Muslim vote, the residents mostly grumble about their roads where cars driving through stumble like drunks, or could stare down chasms like suicidal stock brokers. The famed mafia on the other hand, are just neighbours people don’t really want to talk about. ‘Faheem boss’ from Gangs of Wasseypur fame, has been a part of the Congress-led INTUC is currently in prison along with his next-in-line son, Iqbal.
I toured the party offices in a warm afternoon in Wasseypur, where each TMC office, from where labour minister Chandrashekhar ‘Dadai’ Dubey is running, has a carrom board which is perpetually entertaining the youth of Wasseypur. The three I had gone to in Wasseypur were all but empty with the exception of young boys playing carrom. (There is a huge population of Bengalis in Dhanbad-Bokaro and some feel that the TMC is going to take their vote.)
In the Congress office, everyone claims they’ve always been with the party and their response to the media’s coverage on scams after scam committed to Congress governments, on ‘ghotala (scams)’, was that ‘ye sab gumrah kar rahe hai (They’re all misleading us)’. They seemed to have more trust on the Congress’s efforts to reduce ‘mehngai (price rise)’ and that their other main issue was articulated repeatedly as ‘sukoon (peace)’, indicating their reservations about Modi coming to power.
‘Gujarat mein dekhe hai, ki kya vikas kiya? (Have you seen what progress there is in Gujarat?),’ said Tahir Hussain, a private teacher, ‘Ja ke aap dekhiye waha ke kisan ko kya hua. Aap shehere mein thoda vikas kar diye toh bahut vikas kar diya? (Go and see what was happened to the farmers there. You do some development in the cities, and that is a lot of progress?)’
‘Media hi sabh chalarahe hai, Tv kholiye subha, Modi, shyam ko kholiye, Modi. Aare aage koi hai! (They’re running the media, turn on the TV in the morning and Modi, turn it on in the evening, Modi. Is there anyone else?)’ Exhorted another Congress supporter.
At the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha office, the supporters felt that the vote is being wasted on the Congress because their candidate who had previously won seats in Dhanbad, had shifted to the TMC, and Kalam Khan, a contractor and supporter would add, ‘JVM mein aadha adhikar hai, aur hum 90% jeetenge. Kaaran hai, ki hum log wahi par vote denge, ja bajpa ko takkar denge. (JVM has half the power, and I’m 90% sure we’ll win. Because, we’ll vote for whoever can stand up to the BJP) ’
‘Babulal Marandi, JVM ke leader, woh be RSS mein the na? (Babulal Marandi, the JVL leader, was also in the RSS, right?)’ I asked
‘Teh na! Teh! (He was, no! He was.)’ He replied.
He would continue to add what is spoken across Wasseypur. That no one knows who is Alok Dubey of the Congress, and the Congress should have just fielded Daday Dubey, who the voters of Wasseypur know, and have voted for in the past. That he had taken the TMC seat, ensures that the vote would split for both parties and would have no chance of defeating BJP, thus everyone should come to JVM, said Mr.Kalam Khan.
A sentiment found in Congress supporters too.
‘Congress ko ma chudake, nikal jayega BJP. (Fuck the Congress’ mother and BJP will get ahead)’ Said Mohammed Manjoor, a shop keeper, ‘Bahut Dada Dubey ko vote dere hai, bahut log Congress ko dere hai, saale sab BJP ko jita denge! Muslaman bhi salle vote BJP ko vote dere hai! (Lots of people are voting for Dada Dubey, and lots are voting for Congress, the bastards will make BJP win! Muslims are also voting for the BJP!’
Across the day, it was becoming more and more evident, that every individual felt a need for Wasseypur to vote together, but there was a ‘batwara(division)’ of votes, and an anxiety in many people, unsure of which party has the strentgh to defeat the BJP, a sentiment found amongst the majority. But without any unity, without any political party working to organize the people of Wasseypur on their own terms, there would be no collective mass, and what is a voting base, is merely a supermarket for votes.
‘Muslims look at how the elections are going, which party is strong, and then vote en masse towards that party,’ say many observers of Wasseypur, but at an independent meeting held on the 21st of April in Wasseypur, the only consensus was that there is no consensus.