Prestige and development don’t go hand in hand or so seems to be the case with Jharkhand’s Lohardaga parliamentary seat.
The constituency, spread over Lohardaga, Gumla and parts of Ranchi district, has been represented by former Ministers, including Kartik Oraon, Aviation and Communications Minister in the 1980s, and Rameshwar Oraon, who was the chairperson of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes. The outgoing BJP MP, Sudarshan Bhagat, is also a Cabinet Minister in the Union government.
Besides the political importance, Lohardaga also enjoys an iconic status in the State because of Jari, the village of Param Vir Chakra recipient Albert Ekka. Lance Naik Albert Ekka was martyred in the Battle of Hilli during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War in Tripura’s Gangasagar.
No health centre
Jari’s history has prompted successive governments to shower promises for its development. Yet Balamdina Ekka, the octogenarian widow of the war hero, does not stay in the village as no health institution is available nearby and her grandchildren are admitted in schools 10 km away from the village.
Jari, which was upgraded to a block having five panchayats and 29 villages under its jurisdiction in 2010, does not have a health centre, a quality school and water supply system.
The Opposition Congress alleges that since the relatives of Ekka refused to accept the soil, reportedly brought from the martyred soldier’s grave in Tripura, from Chief Minister Raghubar Das at a public function on December 3, 2015, the village fell off the development map. The family members had doubts over the authenticity of the urn procured by the administration. They later themselves visited Gangasagar where the war hero was laid to rest.
“Since it was the village of a Param Vir Chakra awardee, Many projects were lined up for Jari, but the Chief Minister felt offended when Ekka’s family members refused to accept the urn from him. Development of a region should be kept above personal ego,” said Zakir Khan, a local Congress leader.
Dillip Baraik, the mukhia (village head) of Jari village and a BJP leader, claimed “there were plans of setting up a Sainik School, health centre and an army recruitment centre in the village in honour of Lance Naik Ekka. However, the family members of the war hero were “misguided by the Congress and the projects were shelved”.
With power outage being a frequent phenomenon, residents of Jari and many nearby villages are forced to travel to Chainpur, the sub-division, to even charge their mobile phones. “People pay ₹10 per phone for full charge of battery in the shops here,” said Prakash Routiya, who runs a phone charging shop at Chainpur.
Development has become a casualty in the game of political one-upmanship in Lohardaga. As per the estimates of 2011 Census, out of total 18,68,433 population in Lohardaga, 93.44% is rural and 6.56% urban. Some of the social indicators, as per National Family Health Survey-4, show how development has taken a backseat in the constituency. The rate of institutional birth in Lohardaga is 71.8% and Gumla 69.3% against the national average of 78.9%. Similarly, against the national average of 87.6% household with improved drinking water source, Lohardaga and Gumla stand at 71.2% and 47.5% respectively.
Lohardaga, which goes to polls on April 29, saw close contests in 2009 and 2014 elections, when the victory margin was below 10,000. Mr. Sudarshan Bhagat is contesting against Sukhdeo Bhagat, the Congress nominee, who is a candidate of the Opposition alliance. The outgoing MP may find it difficult to hold on to Lohardaga this time.