On the last day of campaigning in the seventh and last phase of Lok Sabha polls 2024, the battle of ballots in Dumka is at its peak. 

The battle is straight between BJP’s Sita Soren and JMM’s Nalin Soren. Who will win? Nobody knows for sure as the fight is neck to neck. 

In any case, Dumka is one of the 14 parliamentary constituencies in Jharkhand, reserved for Scheduled Tribes (STs). It will go to polls together with 
Godda and Rajmahal on June 1.

In Godda, sitting BJP MP Nishikant Dubey is locked in a direct contest against Congress candidate Pradeep Yadav. In the 2019 general election, Dubey got the lead in all six Assembly segments — Jarmundi, Madhupur, Deoghar, Poreyahat, Godda, and Mahagama. In the previous Lok Sabha election, Mr. Yadav had contested the seat on a Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) ticket. 

Dubey is a three-term MP and first won the seat in 2009. Alongside, the Rajmahal seat that is reserved for Scheduled Tribes (ST) is presently occupied by JMM where the party has fielded sitting MP Vijay Hansda, who is up against BJP candidate Tala Marandi. 

It has turned into a triangular contest after Lobin Hembrom, a rebel JMM MLA who represents the Borio Assembly seat, jumped into the contest as an Independent candidate. 

Two more candidates for the seat have raised serious questions over the fate of JMM’s fortunes in the Rajmahal seat, which has six Assembly segments — Borio, Barhait, Litipara, Pakur, Maheshpur, and Rajmahal. 

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has fielded Gopen Soren as its candidate whereas All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) has fielded Paul Soren, who could dent the Muslim vote bank.  

JMM is also facing difficulties after the arrest of Congress MLA from Pakur and Minister in the Jharkhand government Alamgir Alam who is behind bars now. He had a sway over the Muslim vote bank.

However, Dumka includes parts of the Deoghar and Dumka districts, as well as the entire Jamtara district. 

Dumka constituency comprises six Legislative Assembly segments: Shikaripara (ST) and Dumka (ST) in Dumka district, Nala and Jamtara in Jamtara district, Jama (ST) in Dumka district, and Sarath in Deoghar district. According to the 2011 Census, there are 14,35,121 voters in Dumka, with urban voters comprising 7.3% and rural 92.7%. 

The literacy rate is 52.27%. Scheduled Castes form 7.8% of the total electorate and Scheduled Tribes are 37.5%. Hindus are 78% while Muslims and Christians are 17.4% and 3.53%, respectively. 

Investigation revealed that the battle for votes has turned into a prestige battle for Shibu Soren’s daughter-in-law Sita Soren. She had quit the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and joined the BJP after a prolonged family feud with her brother-in-law Hemant Soren and his wife Kalpana. 

Dumka has traditionally been a bastion of the JMM, with Shibu Soren, referred to endearingly as ‘Bishom Guru’, winning the seat seven times including in 1980, 1989, 1991, 1996, 2002, 2004, 2009 and 2014. 

He was briefly upstaged by Babulal Marandi of the BJP in the 1998 and 1999 elections, and most recently in 2019 when Sunil Soren secured the seat for the BJP. In the 2019 Lok Sabha Election, the BJP’s Sunil Soren won the Dumka seat with a margin of 47,590 votes, defeating JMM patriarch Shibu Soren. 

Meanwhile, in the assembly elections the same year, the JMM-Congress alliance had the upper hand winning five out of six seats while the BJP bagged one. The BJP had initially named sitting MP Sunil Soren as its candidate to contest for a second term in the Dumka constituency. However, as news of the Soren family feud broke out, the situation changed drastically. 

Sita Soren, who had been anticipating a Lok Sabha ticket from JMM for the Dumka contest, quit the party when she received hints that the party leadership had no such plans. She was immediately handed over the ticket to join the BJP, much to the chagrin of Sunil Soren, who has made his discontentment known to the BJP leadership. 

This incident has caused visible friction among local ranks of the party with Sita Soren facing resistance and infighting in the BJP. Sunil Soren has not been participating in her campaigns putting Sita Soren in a tough position. 

However, despite the divisions in the party, it is said the Modi factor has effectively united party workers and her campaign is going strongly as opposed to her opponent from JMM, Nalin Soren. Sita Soren is a three-time MLA from the Jama assembly segment in the Dumka Lok Sabha constituency. 

As the daughter-in-law of Shibu Soren and wife of his eldest son, the late Durga Soren, who passed away in 2009, Sita has been alleging for years that she has been dealt with a poor hand despite the stature of her late husband in the party. Her grouse is that, Hemant Soren, the second son of Shibu Soren, has hijacked the party along with his wife, and prevented Sita from occupying powerful positions in the party landscape. 

Sita has for years been in a rebellious mood, breaking away from the party line and criticising the JMM leadership even while she was in the party. 

She was highly critical of the party’s decision to appoint Champai Soren as the chief minister when Hemant Soren was jailed on corruption charges. She has also alleged that her husband’s death remains unexplained and should be investigated. 

Further, she said she has the complete support and blessings of her father-in-law, in reference to Shibu Soren, claiming that he wants his eldest daughter to win. Shibu Soren is a widely respected and arguably the tallest leader to come out of Jharkhand in recent years. 

He wields tremendous sway among the dominant Adivasi voters who account for about 37.5% of the electorate in Dumka. The BJP hopes to bank on this dynamic as its primary weakness in Dumka is that the tribal voter base is traditionally a stronghold of the JMM. 

Sita Soren is a popular face in the constituency and won the Jama seat with 60,925 votes, which the BJP hopes will cross over to the party. Moreover, with a relatively weak opponent, she is expected to make significant inroads for the BJP among tribal vote bases in other assembly segments as well, where the JMM has the upper hand. 

While the BJP holds the Sarath seat with a winning margin of more than 65,000 votes, its performance in other seats fell short of converting into victories despite the Modi factor, indicating the need to expand its reach among tribal voters. Meanwhile, the Modi factor is visibly prevalent, which is an added advantage for Sita. 

The delivery of welfare schemes including free ration, Awas Yojana and Ayushman Bharat have made considerable impact in this part of Jharkhand. In urban areas, the prime minister is exceptionally popular among general caste voters as well as Dalit voters owing to Hindutva and other national issues. 

Sita Soren is treating this election as a prestige battle, claiming her ‘rightful’ place in the political landscape of Jharkhand. 

At this point, she may have the upper hand, but certain challenges also remain, as the arrest of former chief minister Hemant Soren has garnered a sympathy wave among Adivasi voters making this contest a tough one. JMM Banks on Nalin Soren: The JMM has named Nalin Soren as its candidate from Dumka.

Nalin Soren is an MLA from the Shikaripara assembly segments, having won the seat seven times in a row. He won the assembly election in 2019 with a little under 30,000 votes, defeating his BJP opponent. 

The 76-year-old is reportedly facing health issues owing to which campaign is not running as aggressively as his BJP opponent. He claims to have the blessing of Shibu Soren being a loyal party leader for a long time. 

Hemant Soren’s youngest brother Basant Soren, MLA from the Dumka constituency, and his successor chief minister Champai Soren, have been campaigning on Nalin Soren’s behest, along with his son, drawing large crowds through their campaign. 

An MLA since 1991, Nalin Soren is respected in the constituency and is known for being an accessible grassroots leader. 

This is an added advantage that may translate into votes on polling day. With the support of four MLAs including the Congress’ Irfan Ansari from Dumka, Nalin Soren is relying on anti-incumbency against the BJP MP and hoping to garner sympathy votes due to Hemant Soren’s arrest, which has not been well-received by Adivasi voters.

Apart from the challenge posed by Sita Soren’s candidature, the BJP is also attacking the JMM-led state government for the law-and-order situation here amid an increased number of gang rapes, putting the JMM on the back foot. 

The JMM, backed by the Congress, has the near-absolute support of the 17.5% Muslim voters in the Dumka constituency. 

As it is, the 37.5% of the tribal vote also sticks primarily to the JMM, which hopes for a high turnout among these vote banks to ensure its victory. 

Meanwhile, the party has some support in urban areas and among pockets of General and Scheduled Caste voters as well, making for an interesting contest in Dumka.

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