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Minor marriage controversy: will Jharkhand state BJP chief's head roll?

Catch Team | Updated on: 6 July 2016, 0:08 IST
The wedding
  • Jharkhand BJP chief Tala Marandi\'s son married an 11-year-old girl
  • This has raked up a political controversy across the state
The reaction
  • Most BJP leaders have distanced themselves from Marandi and the incident
  • One BJP leader calls it a conspiracy against Marandi by political forces
More in the story
  • Allegations of sexual exploitation against Marandi\'s son Munna
  • What the tribal leader\'s future looks like

The week-old drama surrounding Jharkhand BJP president Tala Marandi and his son Munna seems to be heading to its logical conclusion.

The political storm, triggered by Munna's alleged marriage with an minor girl on 27 June, has now taken a more expedient turn for the ruling party.

On Saturday, the Godda district administration filed a civil suit against the father-son duo in connection with the case. The lawsuit also implicates the girl's father, Bhagan Baski.

Sexual exploitation complaint

Munna's marriage was originally fixed with a girl named Mamata Hansda. However, Mamata refused to tie the knot with the BJP leader's son just a day before the scheduled ceremony. The reason was a complaint of sexual exploitation lodged by another minor girl in the local court against Munna on 23 June. The girl claimed Munna had made the false promise of marriage to lure her into a relationship.

The Marandi family hastily found Ritu Baski as a replacement for Mamata, not heeding to the fact that she was just 11 years old, as per her school record.

Mamata says she is not afraid of the clout of Munna's family. According to her, she walked out of the relationship as Munna would have made her life hell after the marriage. Mamata's courage has won her accolades from across the state. She gives an impression of guts, coupled with intelligence, during the conversation.

Ritu Baski, on the other hand, has maintained silence over the controversy. The political battle is being fought largely through file notings and press statements. The state government's own officials had opened up the school files to reveal that Marandi had welcomed a minor as his daughter-in-law.

Chief Minister Raghubar Das, one of the VVIP invitees to the wedding, stayed away from the ceremony after these files were made public. He skipped the wedding despite the fact that he was in the same region of Santhal Pargana on 27 June.

The war of words began soon after the wedding. Marandi claimed the wedding was consummated with the approval of the local village council, and in accordance with the Santhali tradition. He dared opponents to get the bride medically examined.

Baski, Munna's father-in-law, wasn't silent either. He insisted that Ritu had crossed the legal age for marriage.

But, Munna, the man in the eye of the storm, has remained conspicuous by his silence. A galaxy of BJP MLAs had gleefully enjoyed Marandi's hospitality on the day of the marriage. But, most of them cut off from the Marandi family as soon as the issue snowballed into a controversy.

No state BJP leader has openly come out to support Marandi.

"Tala Marandi is the state BJP chief. It is against the decorum to say anything against him. It would be better if a medical board is constituted to ascertain the age of the bride," says Saryu Rai, a minister in the state BJP government.

Another state minister and senior BJP leader CP Singh is equally reticent. "Tala Marandi should take a decision out of his own will," he says.

Most of the BJP leaders of the state have chosen to shun their president in the face of this controversy.

Allegations and rebuttals

Godda MP Nishikant Dubey is perhaps the only exception, and offers the following explanation. "The date of birth registered in the school documents before Class X does not prove the age of the student," he argues.

"There is a political conspiracy against Tala Marandi. The school authorities are complicit in it. The current chairman of the State Committee for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR), Manoj Kumar, has links with the RJD, whereas, Mahua Maji, the chairperson of the State Commission for Women, had fought elections on a Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) ticket. Both of them are part of the plot against Marandi," Dubey adds.

JMM leader & former CM Hemant Soren refutes the charges made by Dubey.

"The state government orders SIT probes even on small issues. Why is the Chief Minister shying from a probe in this matter?" he asks.

These political wranglings apart, there is little doubt that Marandi's son was no saint. His erratic ways have put his father's political career in jeopardy. The silence of the majority of Marandi's partymen is speaking volumes in this matter.

Munna, of course, is not the only spoilt scion of a leader in Jharkhand. BJP sources maintain the wrongdoings of their kin is hardly a cause of worry for the politicians of the state. Marandi has fallen prey to the political ambition of some of his men, they say.

What will happen to Marandi now?

Marandi was anointed as the state BJP president just a few months ago. His predecessor, Ravindra Rai, held the post despite being a loyalist of Arjun Munda. Marandi's name was approved by the central leadership to replace Rai, mainly to maintain a balance in the Adivasi and non-Adivasi equation.

Handing over the command of the state party unit to an Adivasi leader was seen as a sagacious move, as Chief Minister Raghubar Das came from a non-Adivasi background. Marandi's name also had the backing of the RSS. But, the decision has not gone down well with a section of party leaders. This was the reason Marandi was not getting the importance in party affairs, which a state president normally commands.

Now, even the Sangh Parivar is keen to find a swift resolution to this controversy. BJP national president Amit Shah, as well as state leaders, have been reportedly asked by RSS leaders to take a decision on Marandi's future before the Sangh's important meeting in Kanpur.

Although, senior BJP leader Faggan Singh Kulaste denies any information about whether Marandi would be removed from the post. But, this has not ceased speculations in state BJP circles that Marandi's days as state president are numbered.

Even Marandi's sympathisers are saying the government wants him to go, and the matter was hyped only at its behest.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 6 July 2016, 0:08 IST