- Jayant Sinha, son of Yashwant Sinha and IIT-Harvard alumnus, is BJP candidate from Hazaribagh. Greenhorn tag is a handicap for him.
- Campaign strategy is hinged on his qualifications, his father’s reputation and the Modi factor. Has ambitious plans for the constituency.
- Congress candidate and Ramgarh royal Saurabh Narain Singh points to his proven track record as MLA. But partymen trying to undercut him.
- AJSU candidate Loknath Mahto, a former BJP MLA, banking on caste votes of Kushwahas and Sahus. Some say he is the dark horse.
It’s been a role reversal of sorts for former finance minister and three-term BJP MP from Hazaribagh Yashwant Sinha this Lok Sabha elections. While son Jayant Sinha (51) is out electioneering under the scorching sun, Sinha Sr monitors the war room set up at Rishav Batika, his sprawling farmhouse in Demotand, six km away from Hazaribagh town. “Earlier, my wife, sons and daughter took care of my election management while I campaigned in the hinterland. Now my son is out in the field and I am into managing his campaign,” he says.
Sinha, now 76, says he is yet to decide about his future role in the party (nor is there any indication from the BJP leadership). “All that Rajnath Singh (BJP chief) said at a public meeting was that he wouldn’t allow me to retire,” he says.
Sinha Sr is cautious when talking about Jayant, who quit as MD of Omidyar network’s India operations, to contest the election. “I don’t need to guide him. He’s worked hard in earlier elections and knows the demands of the job,” Sinha says, trying to drive home the point that “Jayant didn’t get this seat due to anybody’s mercy, but on his own merit”.
Hazaribagh constituency, covering the Ramgarh district and parts of Hazaribagh district, has over 15 lakh voters. It returned Sinha Sr to the Lok Sabha thrice—in 1998, ’99 and ’09. The BJP cadre reluctantly admits Jayant’s candidature was initially a handicap. “But we are overcoming it. Jab bhi koi naya ped lagate hain toh woh kitna phal dega, ummeed nahi laga sakte hain (You can’t predict the fruiting potential of a new tree),” muses BJP supporter S.K. Singh. “Hum logon ki lachari hai. Sirf Modiji ke liye BJP ko vote dena hai. Pratyashi nahi dekhna hai (We’re helpless, we’ll vote for Modi regardless of the candidate),” says Shyam Gupta, another party worker.
Going by his campaign so far, the Harvard alumnus seems to have adopted a defensive strategy to retain his father’s seat. Instead of embarking on a war of words with his rivals, he’s chosen to bank on his IIT-Harvard education, his father’s reputation and above all the NaMo wave to sail him past troubled waters. Sinha Sr has a long list of achievements here, listing 62 big and small projects which were completed during his tenure. His biggest contribution is that he linked Hazaribagh town with a railway line.
“Aaj caste khatre mein nahi hai, majhab khatre mein nahi hai, aaj desh khatre mein hai, aur Modiji hi desh ko bacha sakte hain (It’s neither caste nor religion which is threatened today, but the country itself...and only Modiji can save the country),” Jayant tells voters while sweating it out in village after village in the rebel-hit Barkagaon assembly constituency.
When voters at Mohdi village complain that his father has done nothing about the river erosion, he placates them saying, “I am an IIT engineer and know how to tackle the problem from the river. I will take action before the rainy season begins.” The village is the former stronghold of AJSU candidate Loknath Mahto, who represented Barkagaon thrice on the BJP ticket. But the villagers are angry with Mahto. “Loknath bina pooche AJSU mein chale gaye. Samasya ka samadhan Sinhaji se hi ho sakta hai (Loknath joined AJSU without consulting us; the erosion issue can be sorted out only by Sinhaji),” says Jugal Ranjan, a student.
Jayant has evolved an ambitious action plan for the constituency, which includes 24x7 electricity, irrigation, quality roads and water supply for every Hazaribagh resident, world-class medical facilities in the district and planned development in the housing, industry, railways and education sectors. The MP-hopeful is also hoping to ensure every Hazaribagh resident gets the Johar Jharkhand Card, a single identity card through which they can enjoy the benefits of welfare schemes.
Travelling across Barkagaon’s villages, Jayant tells voters that he’s been a social worker for the last 16 years and was closely associated with development work undertaken by his father. He harps on the promise of “ek vote, teen fayde (one vote, three gains)”. “My victory will benefit you in three ways. One, Narendra Modi will become PM. Two, my father will continue to take care of you as a guardian, and three, an educated and honest person like me will be your MP,” he says. He painstakingly refutes the allegation that he is a greenhorn in politics. “Why are people saying I am new to politics? I have been active here since my father won the seat first in 1998,” he says.
“I am not in my thirties, like Karti Chidambaram, I will soon be 51. I have achieved a lot in my professional career. I am here purely on merit and hard work,” he points out. He says he’s been interested in public service for a long time. “I have a family which has devoted itself to public service for India. My father is in politics, my maternal grandfather was in the Indian Civil Service. It’s the junoon (passion) for public service which brought me to the hurly-burly of politics,” he explains to Outlook.
At times, he does receive mild criticism for his father not delivering on some or the other thing he’d promised. But at Gosain Balia village, Ranjit Raj, a student, sums up the mood. “We are seeing a new face. He hasn’t been here earlier. But we are committed to Modiji,” he says.
Jayant’s ‘overdependence’ on the Modi factor has expectedly given his Congress rival and scion of the Ramgarh royal family a handle. “His father was an important minister at the Centre, and for quite a long time. But he still can’t seek votes on the performance of his father but has to invoke Modi. He apparently conceded publicly that his father was unpopular,” says Saurabh Narayan Singh (39), who had lost the ’09 elections to Sinha Sr by some 40,000 votes.
Saurabh, who has an MBA from the University of Western Australia, Perth, says the JMM cut into the anti-BJP votebank last time. “This time, the Congress is fighting the election in coalition with the JMM and RJD. So I am sure to turn the tables around,” he says. Insiders, though, say that Saurabh isn’t getting “adequate support” from ex-Congress MLA Manoj Yadav. State minister Jaiprakash Bhai Patel, who represents the Mandu assembly seat, has also played hot and cold.
Saurabh harps on his family’s 700-year heritage during electioneering, but is more comfortable talking about his achievements as an MLA. “Family gives you an identity, but you have to sustain it by hard work. When I first won the assembly elections in 2004, I got 40,000 votes. In the next election, I got 66,000 votes. The 26,000 extra votes came through my work for the constituency. Now I want to extend it to the whole of Hazaribagh Lok Sabha constituency,” he asserts.
Meanwhile, AJSU candidate Loknath Mahto is primarily banking on the support of the dominant Koeri-Kushwahas and Sahus. Mahto, a former BJP MLA, however denies this. “I don’t think so. I will be getting votes cutting across caste and party lines. I have worked for everyone in my constituency,” he asserts. Both Jayant and Saurabh dismiss him as of no consequence. But several people here seem to believe he is the dark horse.
Suman Shrivastava is a former bureau chief of The Telegraph in Ranchi