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Lok Sabha 2024: Jharkhand is Symbolic of BJP’s 'Take No Prisoners' Approach

As if to ensure that every single base is covered, the BJP has taken back estranged tribal leader Babulal Marandi.

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(This is the 13th in a series of insightful reports from the ground, titled The Race From India to Bharat. The author travels all across India as 960 million voters get ready to celebrate the largest festival of democracy in the world: the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. What do ordinary Indians think and feel about the past, present, and future of India? Are they convinced that the old fault lines are healing?)

(Read part one here, part two here, part three here, part four here, part five here, part six here, part seven here, part eight here, part nine here, part 10 here, part 11 here, and part 12 here.)

Soon after the Enforcement Directorate (ED) arrested Jharkhand Chief Minister (now former) Hemant Soren, the author wrote a column here describing how the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) treats politics as unrestricted political warfare. On the outskirts of Ranchi at a Dhaba, the author talked to a bunch of youngsters who are die-hard supporters of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha.

They are voluble in saying that the Modi-Shah duo has taken vindictive action against their leader by arresting him on trumped-up charges. They claim there is a huge undercurrent of sympathy for Hemant Soren and that voters this time will teach a lesson to the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

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For a moment, there is pin-drop silence when the author asks about Sita Soren joining the BJP. Sita Soren is the eldest daughter-in-law of JMM founder Shibu Soren and sister-in-law of Hemant. Her husband Durga allegedly died young in 2009. Sita is a three-time JMM MLA and recently quit the JMM claiming neglect and isolation by the Soren clan ever since her husband died.

Without wasting any time, the BJP dropped the sitting MP Sunil Soren and nominated Sita as the party candidate from the Dumka constituency which is reserved for Scheduled Tribes. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Sunil Soren emerged as a giant killer by defeating Shibu Soren.

The group of youngsters at the Dhaba have a whispered conversation and a bright young Sunil Mahto says, “Yes, it is very bad for the family and for the JMM. You see, the BJP leaders are too clever and have lured away Sita Didi with false promises”. Mahto reluctantly agrees that the INDIA (Indian National Developmental Inclusive) bloc is no match for the BJP when it comes to ruthlessly pursuing political power.

When the author asks if the BJP-led NDA will perform a hat trick by winning 12 out of 14 seats in the state, Mahto sighs and responds, “I wish you were wrong. But it looks that way. But our vote will go to Hemant Dada.” The Dhaba owner laughs cynically and says don’t be surprised if the lotus wins all 14 seats this time. He is not interested in revealing who he will vote for.

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Is the cynical Dhaba owner joking? Not if the BJP has its way. Compared to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, when the BJP-AJSU (All Jharkhand Students Union) commanded a 54% vote share, the BJP appears even more formidable as a force. Back in 2019, the Congress had managed to win a lone seat in the state — Singhbum — reserved for scheduled tribes. The winner was Geeta Koda, wife of former Chief Minister Madhu Koda who has spent a few years behind bars after being convicted in a corruption case. Geeta has now joined the BJP and is the party candidate from the same seat.

In any case, like in many other states, the once mighty Congress party has been steadily losing grassroots support and cadre. For instance, Subodh Kant Sahay (Minister for Home in the VP Singh government) lost the Ranchi seat in 2019 with an embarrassing margin of about 2,85,000 votes. The only way a Congress candidate has any hopes of winning a seat is if the stars are aligned perfectly. That the grand old party is a force in decline is clear from the fact that it has reluctantly agreed to contest just four seats this time, down from seven in 2019.

That’s not all. As if to ensure that every single base is covered, the BJP has taken back estranged tribal leader Babulal Marandi, who was the first chief minister of Jharkhand between 2000 and 2003. After being ill-treated by the party, Marandi revolted and formed his own Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM).
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The JVM had contested two seats in 2019 and lost both quite badly. But it still commanded a five per cent plus vote share during the 2019 assembly elections. The merger of the JVM with the BJP would almost certainly mean that the 54 per cent vote share won by the BJP in 2019 is set to increase even further.

As the car approached Jamshedpur, the author thought again about the ruthlessly pragmatic approach of this new BJP. Raghubir Das was the BJP chief minister of Jharkhand between 2014 and 2019. But so poor was his governance track record that he lost his Jamshedpur assembly seat in 2019 by a huge margin. Since then, Das has been “kicked upstairs” as the Governor of Odisha, and will not be campaigning this time.

Barring a groundswell of public anger against the BJP (which the author has failed to find anywhere), how will the INDIA bloc withstand this juggernaut?

(Sutanu Guru is the Executive Director of the CVoter Foundation. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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