Congress Surge & Alliance Could Reduce BJP By Half in Jharkhand

Kolebira bypoll shows Congress gaining in Jharkhand. If it gets its alliance right, BJP may lose 5-10 seats in 2019.

Published
Elections
6 min read
Former Indian Police Services (IPS) officer and Member of Parliament Dr Ajoy Kumar has clearly injected new life into Congress.
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The Kolebira by-election result is bad news for the BJP in Jharkhand, not so much because it lost the seat, but because the Congress won. The party expected that it would be a direct contest with Jharkhand Party candidate Menon Ekka. Ekka's husband Anosh Ekka is a three-time MLA from the seat and his conviction in a murder case necessitated the bypoll. But the Congress, whose vote share in Kolebira was just 8.7 percent in the 2014 elections, came out of nowhere to win the seat

The second piece of bad news for the BJP in Jharkhand is that the Congress, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Babulal Marandi's Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) (JVM-P) and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) seem to be on their way to form an alliance for the Lok Sabha polls. If this happens, the BJP, which won 12 out of Jharkhand’s 14 seats in the last elections, could well be down to half that number.

The Congress’ win has an unlikely hero – the party's state unit chief Dr Ajoy Kumar, a former IPS officer who originally hails from Karnataka. Apparently, it was Kumar's decision to field a low-profile but sincere party worker Naman Bixal Kongadi from the seat, going against Congress’ ally Jharkhand Mukti Morcha's call to support Menon Ekka as a joint Opposition candidate. Almost immediately, the Congress got the support of Kumar's former party – Babulal Marandi's JVM-P – helping it win the seat. The Jharkhand Party ended up fourth.

What has surprised the BJP and even the JMM to some extent is the decisive shift of the Jharkhand Party's tribal votes towards the Congress candidate. The BJP retained its vote share from 2014 but the huge swing towards the Congress – its vote share increased four times over – is a major cause of alarm for the ruling party.

BJP supporters say this could partly be due to the demographics of the constituency and that being a Christian-dominated seat, there are limits to which the BJP can grow here. But the Congress’ rise seems to be cutting across several tribal-dominated seats.

Congress’ Rise In ST Reserved Seats

The BJP's stagnant growth in tribal-dominated seats isn't restricted to Kolebira. This is reflected in the by-elections held in Jharkhand since 2014. Out of seven seats where by-elections were held, three were reserved for Scheduled Tribes – Lohardaga, Littipara and Kolebira. There, byolls have been held in 2015, 2017 and 2018 respectively. If we compare the change in vote share in these Assembly segments put together in three elections – the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the 2014 Assembly polls and the by-elections – a common trend can be observed.

For the purpose of analysis, the BJP and All Jharkhand Students’ Union’s vote share has been combined as NDA, and Congress, JMM, JVM-P and RJD have been combined as UPA even though they contested against each other in some places.

While the combined vote share of the BJP and its ally AJSU remained constant, the Congress, JMM and JVM-P have gained significant ground.

Jharkhand has 28 constituencies reserved for Scheduled Tribes. The BJP and AJSU bagged 12 out of these seats and the JMM bagged 13 in the Assembly elections. The Congress failed to win a single ST seat. However, the party won the Lohardaga ST seat in 2015 and Kolebira this week.

Part of the reason for the Congress' rise among tribals is the shift of votes away from smaller tribal parties. While former chief minister Madhu Koda has merged his Jai Bharat Samanta Party with the Congress, the Jharkhand Party is struggling after Anosh Ekka's arrest. And Babulal Marandi's increasing proximity with the Congress has also boosted the party's popularity among tribals.

BJP Gains In Non-Reserved Seats

In the non-reserved seats, the situation is somewhat different as the BJP is doing comparatively better. In fact, the party gained ground in the bypolls to four general seats – Panki, Godda, Silli and Gomia.

The Congress and its allies have also gained ground, but the BJP, whose vote share fell between the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls, has managed to reduce the gap in the by-elections.

The difference in the BJP’s fortunes in ST and non-ST seats could be partly because of the policies of the state government led by Raghubar Das, the first non-tribal chief minister of Jharkhand. Das being a non-tribal is only part of the problem. His land use policy has made it easier for the government to acquire land inhabited by tribals, sparking outrage among Adivasis. The protection of their land is a core issue for the tribals of Jharkhand. On the other hand, it seems that the chief minister is still reasonably popular among non-tribals, particularly privileged castes and OBCs.

United Opposition Is BJP’s Worst Nightmare

One aspect that is true across both ST and general seats is that if the JMM, Congress, JVM-P and RJD come together, it will make matters very difficult for the BJP and its ally the AJSU.

Combining the votes of the two alliances in every Lok Sabha seat, we can come up with two kinds of projections regarding the Lok Sabha tally:

First, if the parties' vote share is similar to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Second, if the parties' vote share is similar to the 2014 Assembly elections. Here we will add the votes secured by each of the partners in the two alliances in all the Assembly segments in each Lok Sabha seat. East Lok Sabha seat in Jharkhand has five or six Assembly segments.

We will add a third projection to this, which was made by C-Voter in its State of the Nation tracker for December. It has considered the Congress, JMM and RJD as allies and the JVM-P as separate. But we will consider them as one alliance for the purpose of analyisis, given how things are shaping up.

So if the parties' vote share is similar to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the NDA will be down from 12 seats to eight and the UPA 's tally will increase from two seats to six. But if the Assembly elections' vote share is considered, the BJP goes down even further, to just three seats and the UPA goes up to 11. According to C-Voter, the UPA (including JVM-P) is likely to get nine seats and the NDA five, down seven from its current tally in the Lok Sabha.

if one goes seat-wise, the UPA is decisively ahead in tribal-dominated constituencies like Rajmahal, Dumka (both of which were won by JMM in 2014) and Singhbhum, the turf of former CM Madhu Koda. The alliance will also have an advantage in Godda, where Muslims and STs together form close to 40 percent of the population and Yadavs are also in significant numbers, and Chatra, where Adivasis, Dalits and Muslims form around 50 percent of the electorate.

On the other hand the BJP has an edge in more urban constituencies like Dhanbad and Ranchi. The Left is a major force in Dhanbad and equations could change if the Congress arrives at an understanding with it.

Jharkhand Reflects A Larger Picture

The BJP's woes in Jharkhand are symptomatic of two trends that are developing in rest of the country as well: First, the emergence of alliances is making matters difficult for BJP in states where it has succeeded because of a lower index of opposition unity. For instance, the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party-led alliance in Uttar Pradesh is predicted to cause severe damage to the BJP's tally. Some say the BJP could lose 50 seats in Uttar Pradesh alone.

Second, the Congress' popularity is rising, especially among farmers, Dalits and Adivasis. This propelled the party to victory in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and helped the party give BJP a scare in Gujarat.

Both these processes are likely to harm the BJP in Jharkhand as well. However, one must put a caveat here. A lot depends on the Congress' ability to take along both the JMM and JVM-P, who have historically been rivals in the Jharkhand. The rise in Congress' support could possibly create fears in the JMM that its position as the senior partner is in danger.

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