BJP in Jharkhand Assembly Polls: Will Swing Seats Change the Game?

Bread & butter issues, like unemployment and farm distress, could define the Jharkhand assembly elections.

6 min read
Hindi Female

After Uddhav Thackeray’s swearing-in, the political buzz has now moved from Maharashtra to Jharkhand. The latter voted for the first of the five-phase elections on Friday. The Opposition buoyed by lesser than expected results for BJP in the two state polls of Maharashtra and Haryana, is hoping to overthrow the Raghubar Das-led BJP government in Jharkhand. The ruling party is confident of retaining the state on the back of stability, good performance in the Lok Sabha election, and its leadership.


Instability: Hallmark of Jharkhand Politics

Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar in November 2000 by the Vajpayee government, ending the decades-old demand of the tribals for a separate state. The state has witnessed increased political instability since its formation. In a span of 14 years from 2000-2014, Jharkhand had 9 chief ministerial terms, and 7 chief ministers. President’s Rule had to be imposed three times. The average tenure of a chief minister is 1.4 years, and that of President’s Rule, 0.5 years. The state also has the record for installing an independent MLA, Madhu Koda, as chief minister.

The people of the state always gave a khichdi mandate till 2014.

No pre-poll alliance achieved simple majority, neither in the state’s first polls in 2005 – when BJP+JDU won 36 out of 81 seats – nor in subsequent polls in 2009, when INC+JVM won 25 out of 81 seats.

The majority mark is 41 seats.

Only in the last elections of 2014, BJP+AJSU alliance secured a simple majority by bagging 42 seats. Later in February 2015, 6 MLAs of ex-CM Babulal Marandi, joined the BJP, taking its tally to 48. Raghubar Das has earned the distinction of being the only chief minister in the state’s electoral history, to have completed five (consecutive) years of term. He is the first non-tribal CM of the state.

The key to the CM's chair has been with JMM, smaller parties and independents from 2005-2014. This reduced the state politics to a game of musical chairs with Guruji (Shibu Soren) playing the role of kingmaker. JMM’s allegiance has shifted like a pendulum from Congress to BJP, and then back to Congress.


Does ‘Mahagathbandhan’ Pose a ‘Threat’ to Raghubar Das?

The Hemant Soren-led JMM has joined hands with Lalu Yadav’s RJD and Congress to form a ‘Mahagathbandhan’. JMM is contesting on 44, Congress on 30 and RJD on 7 seats. The alliance hopes to garner the major chunk of the tribal and minorities votes, which account for 42.5 percent of the population, to see them through. 28 out of 81 seats are reserved for the Scheduled Tribes. Across three state elections, JMM has won the highest number of ST reserved seats, rising from 9 in 2005 to 13 in 2014. BJP’s tally has also increased from 9 to 11 during the same period.

Bread & butter issues, like unemployment and farm distress, could define the Jharkhand assembly elections.

In 2014, BJP sailed through in a quadrangular contest, as JMM, JVM and Congress all contested separately. Had they contested together, BJP might have struggled. This is of course assuming the seamless transfer of votes.

  1. If all the four parties – JVM, JMM, INC, RJD – had contested as an alliance, they could have won 55 seats
  2. If only INC, JMM and RJD had contested as an alliance, they could have won 38 seats, 3 short of majority.
Bread & butter issues, like unemployment and farm distress, could define the Jharkhand assembly elections.

JMM continues to be viewed primarily as an adivasi party that has little to offer to the backward castes. A CSDS survey found that 70 percent of voters of backward castes voted for the BJP-AJSU combine. This is the biggest drawback of the alliance.

JVM’s Exit Weakens ‘Mahagathbandhan’

Babulal Marandi’s JVM, which contested as part of the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ in the Lok Sabha elections, has parted ways due to differences over seat-sharing. It had received 10.2 percent vote share in 2014, winning 8 seats, though 6 of its MLAs joined the BJP. While Marandi has a good image, there is no doubt about the fact that his influence has reduced. However, he could play the role of vote katwa and spoil the ‘gathbandhan’s’ chances in many seats, especially the SC-reserved seats.

The Congress has never won a SC seat in the state, while JMM didn’t win any of these seats in the last two elections.

On the other hand, JVM has a decent presence in the SC seats, having won 2 and 3 of them respectively in 2009 and 2014. Even in 8 ST seats, JVM(P) secured votes ranging from 8,700 to 26,000 where they did not win — much more than the margin of votes of the winning candidates.

NDA too has had to face ally troubles.

Sudesh Mahto’s AJSU, and Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP, are both contesting separately. In 2019, AJSU contested on 8, and LJP on 1 seat. This time, AJSU had demanded 17 seats, while BJP was willing to give only 10. AJSU had recorded 3.7 percent vote share in the 2014 state polls where it won 5 seats. AJSU has a decent influence in Giridih, in and around Ranchi and the tribal seats. Paswan’s decision may not impact BJP very much except in a few seats where it is backing rebels. Both JVM and AJSU hope for a hung assembly situation, to emerge as king makers.


Jharkhand Has Always Seen Close Contests

The state has always witnessed very tight contests. On an average of 30 seats, the victory margins have been less than 5 percent in past three elections. In 2014, JMM won the Torpa seat by 43 votes. In 2014, BJP won 14 seats with less than 5 percent margin, JMM 6, INC 5, JVM 3 and AJSU 2 seats.

Swing Seats Hold the Key to Assembly

There are 42 seats (more than half of the assembly strength), where winning parties have not been able to repeat a consecutive term. These swing seats could well determine the election results this time. There are 5 stronghold seats of both the BJP and JMM, which they have won each time for the past three polls. Jharia, Jamshedpur East, Kunti, Ranchi and Kanke for BJP. Barhait, Littipara, Shikaripara, Dumri and Saraikella for JMM.


Bread & Butter Issues Could Define Polls

In the last few years, the BJP-led state has faced severe criticism from various quarters, for starvation-related deaths and mob lynchings. Cow-related mob lynching is another distressing phenomenon in which Muslims, who constitute 15 percent of the state’s population, are the major victims. Voters, particularly from tribal communities, were very unhappy with the state government’s policies, particularly the attempts to amend the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act, Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act, the Local Residence (Domicile) Policy.

Another major issue for Jharkhand, like the rest of the India, is unemployment.

The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy pegs the unemployment rate in Jharkhand at 14 percent, as opposed to 7.3 percent nationally. The National Rural Employment Guarantee (MGNREGA) has not fared well in the state. Each eligible household got only 40 days of work on an average, against the guaranteed hundred. The participation of Adivasi and Dalit workers in MGNREGA employment fell from almost 50 percent to 38 percent during the past three years.

The local factors, rural and farm distress, and unemployment, are expected to play a key role in the state elections. As we saw in the Haryana and Maharashtra polls, the national issues like abrogation of Article 370, Triple Talaq etc. didn’t work, so BJP will have to rework its strategy. In the end, it’s a seat-by-seat contest in Jharkhand. Anti-incumbency against MLAs, spoilers, D-day management, could be the deciding factors.

(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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