Jharkhand Polls: Adivasi Anger, Raghubar’s ‘Arrogance’ Failed BJP
- BJP failed to recognise the sheer arithmetic power of the JMM-INC-RJD alliance.
- The JMM-Cong-RJD alliance was primarily eyeing the Scheduled Tribe (ST)-Muslim-Yadav (MSY) vote bank which accounts for roughly half of the state’s population.
- Some decisions of the (now previous) BJP government in Jharkhand which enraged the adivasis include the filing of sedition cases against 10,000 tribals of the Pathalgarhi movement.
- As a result, BJP’s tally declined from 11 in ST-reserved seats in 2014 to just 2seats in the 2019 elections.
- The poll results show that the voter can distinguish between state and national elections, evaluating each government on merit, punishing CMs for non-performance.
The Jharkhand election results are out, and BJP has lost one more state. In the last one year, state elections have been held in six states and BJP has been able to save its government in only one state. After an action-packed day where the fortunes moved like a pendulum from one side to the other, the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Congress, and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), have managed to secure a simple majority on their own, winning 43 out of 81 seats (including leads).
BJP only gained in vote share because it contested in more seats (79 versus 72). AJSU, which broke away from BJP, doubled its vote share, but could win only three seats. Babulal Marandi’s party, Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM), which faced poaching by the BJP in 2014, won three seats.
Jharkhand ‘Mahagathbandhan’s’ Arithmetic
The BJP failed to recognise the sheer arithmetic power of the JMM-INC-RJD alliance.
This time around, BJP was contesting alone, without AJSU, and the Opposition was united. Had the three parties contested together as an alliance in 2014, the BJP may not have won even in 2014. The alliance would have bagged 38 seats in 2014, just three short of majority.
Seamless Transfer of Votes
The JMM-Cong-RJD alliance was primarily eyeing the Scheduled Tribe (ST)-Muslim-Yadav (MSY) vote bank which accounts for roughly half of the state’s population. The parties have successfully managed to transfer votes to each other without significant leakages. The alliance has been able to secure more than half of the Scheduled Tribe and Yadav votes, and almost three-fourth of the Muslim votes. STs hold the key to the assembly with more than one-third population in 45 out of 81 assembly seats in the state.
Did BJP Face the Wrath of Adivasis?
The BJP installed the state’s first non-tribal chief minister after its victory in 2014. It followed a similar policy of appointing a person from the non-dominant community as CM in three state elections which were held together: Haryana, Jharkhand and Maharashtra. This has angered the tribals. Some decisions of the Raghubar government further fuelled anger and increased tensions between the tribals and non-tribals of the state:
- Filing sedition cases against 10,000 tribals of the Pathalgarhi movement
- Amendment of the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act which was seen as an attempt to acquire tribal land
- Over 16,000 claims of tribals under the Forest Rights Act were reportedly rejected by Gram Sabhas
Support Received by Parties from Various Caste / Community Groups
As a result of this, BJP’s tally declined from 11 in ST-reserved seats in 2014 to just two seats in the 2019 elections. The JMM-led alliance swept the reserved seats winning 25 out of 28 such seats this time around.
A Lone AJSU Contesting Polls Couldn’t Split Opposition Vote
BJP split with its partner AJSU before the elections due to differences over seat-sharing. BJP didn’t want a repeat of Maharashtra where its ally would win some seats with BJP backing and end up with JMM in a hung assembly situation. It also hoped that AJSU would eat away some of the Opposition votes. BJP strategists expected AJSU to dent the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ vote bank as the party is essentially an offshoot of the JMM having presence among Kurmi / Mahato voters of the state.
There was direct contest between AJSU and BJP in three seats, with BJP eventually winning these seats. AJSU finished as runners-up in another five seats where the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ candidates won. An alliance could have made a difference in these seats.
Even Urban Centres Gave BJP the Thumbs Down
The urban voters across the country and especially in the Hindi heartland have backed the BJP for decades. National issues as well as the development agenda of the BJP appeals to this segment of voters. However, in these elections, the BJP has suffered a drubbing in the state’s urban centers as well. Its tally is down from 10 in 2014 to 5 in 2019. The Congress has made inroads winning three seats.
The BJP’s sitting CM Raghubar Das himself was trailing by more than 11,000 votes from Jamshedpur (east) seat to the rebel candidate Saryu Roy. Unemployment, price rise, economic slowdown all seem to have contributed to this loss. The mining industry is facing severe pressure in the state, poor rains and droughts have led to a decline in the production of food grains. Agricultural distress and rural distress which have been plaguing the country for some time, have also impacted the BJP’s fortunes in the 69 rural seats. The party’s tally declined from 27 in 2019 to 21 in 2014.
Voters Can ‘Distinguish’ Between Lok Sabha & Vidhan Sabha Polls
Just six months ago, BJP swept the Lok Sabha elections in Jharkhand, bagging 12 out of 14 seats, and recording more than 50 percent vote share. It was leading in 63 assembly seats. However, voters ‘punished’ Raghubar Das for anti-tribal policies. It lost around 18 percent vote share and ceded lead in more than half of the seats. While people voted Modi for development, they took to task Raghubar Das for non-performance.
Over the last few years, a new trend has emerged wherein BJP has been seen struggling to retain power in states where it is in power, including, Gujarat. The Modi factor doesn’t work alone in these cases; people demand actual performance as well. The Modi factor works well when the party is in opposition and it is able to present Modi’s track record as a harbinger of change.
Did Raghubar Das’s ‘Arrogance’ Harm BJP?
Raghubar consolidated all power within the Chief Minister’s Office. He played a key role in senior leaders like Saryu Roy being denied tickets. His strategy of poaching MLAs from the Opposition also backfired. In the end, Saryu Roy became the poster boy of these elections; his clean image denting the image of Raghubar Das and also the BJP.
Defectors Failed BJP
Five sitting MLAs of the JMM and Congress, and heavyweight leaders, Sukhdeo Bhagat, Manoj Yadav, Kunal Sarangi, Jai Prakash Patel, and Bhanu Pratap Shahi joined the BJP in October 2019 ahead of the Haryana and Maharashtra results. Out of these five, except for Bhanu Pratap Shahi, the other four all lost. Voters ‘punished’ these defectors.
To sum up, the results show that the voter is distinguishing between state and national elections, evaluating each government on its merit, punishing CMs for non-performance, and is smart enough to not fall into the trap of the politics of deflection. The BJP now needs a serious rethink of its strategy, and must develop strong regional leaders with mass appeal, to reduce dependence on the Modi factor.
(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.)