The three-phased voting in Jharkhand came to a close Thursday with the BJP confident about all 14 seats. It had won 12 seats in 1996 and 1998, and eight in 2009, and retains seven now. State leaders attribute the projected sweep to a “Modi wave”, a presumption that is significant because of the Adivasis, who make up 26.2 per cent of the population.
Have the Adivasis voted for Narendra Modi? Even the state BJP answers in the negative. Khunti, which has the maximum proportion at 73.3 per cent, might elect the BJP’s Kariya Munda, but its voters have done so seven times already.
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A “wave” can be substantiated if the party wins in areas where it has traditionally struggled. Dumka is a JMM stronghold and Rajmahal a Congress one, both in the Santhal Pargana region. The BJP claims padhe-likhe Santhalis will vote for Modi; the JVM(P) claims the same group will vote for Babulal Marandi. Either way, a new votebank — identified as the tribal middle class by anthropologists — is up for grabs.
In both seats, the BJP depends on extraneous factors. In Dumka, there is the hope that Sunil Soren, who lost narrowly to Shibu Soren in 2009, will win when Babulal Marandi splits the JMM’s Santhal-Muslim votebank. The BJP hopes to retain the diku (outisder, caste Hindu) vote and that Marandi will not eat into it. In Rajmahal, with a significant number of Muslims, the party hopes the RSS’s 20-odd years of work has “Sanskritised” the Santhals enough to split the JMM votebank. Here, Modi could act as a catalyst in bringing over this group to vote along with dikus, their former exploiters.
In Chatra, a district where 32.6 per cent of the population are Scheduled Castes, this reporter could not find any Dalit at the March 27 Modi rally among the 20-odd he spoke to. No party except the CPI-ML counts the Dalits, 12.1 per cent, as a votebank. While there seemed to be an upper caste-OBC Modi wave in Chatra, the CPI-ML is reportedly giving the BJP sweaty palms in Koderma, a district where one per cent are Adivasis and 15.2 per cent Dalits.
To the question “why will you vote”, an intriguing answer came from Ashraful Haque at Pakur district’s Rahaspur village. “Some Muslims here might have voted for the BJP, because only local BJP leaders help us when we go to them with our problems. Not this time. We don’t want our votes to help Modi. We are scared,” he said.
This fear was used by the Congress’s Ranchi candidate Subodh Kant Sahay, who called a meeting of Muslim mohalla leaders and managed to get an assurance of votes. This despite Muslims being angry with Sahay, who has done little for evicted residents of an encroachment in Ranchi city.
Bihar-based leader Giriraj Singh’s April 18 comments in Deoghar and Bokaro about Modi’s opponents having to go to Pakistan were intended to unite the caste Hindus in the Santhal Pargana region, which has a significant Muslim population.
THEN & NOW
Ideally a wave could mean that communities that stayed away in 2009 were now rooting for the BJP. In urban Jamshedpur, the trading communities and upper middle class seemed to be shifting to the BJP after supporting the JVM’s Ajay Kumar in the 2011 bypoll. The turnout shot up from 51-52 in the last two elections to 65 per cent.
In rural areas, which account for 76 per cent of the vote, the BJP was not expecting any new castes in its bouquet except for the Telis, to which Modi belongs.
The upper caste-OBC “Modi wave” in Chatra may not have been a wave — they have voted for the BJP before, too. In that sense, the “Modi wave” in Jharkhand will have been essentially a strengthening of the BJP’s core votebanks: polarisation along Hindu-Muslim fault lines and then ensuring that its votebanks remained unbroken to deliver maximum votes.
This fortification of votebanks was visible in Hazaribagh and Palamu, where Harvard graduate Jayant Sinha and former DGP V D Ram had to resort to praying for a Modi wave. Also, Ram Navami celebrations organised by Sangh Parivar organisations could have attracted voters who might have gone elsewhere. The enthusiasm around a Modi wave visibly activated the cadres too, whose work could explain why Jamshedpur recorded an unexpectedly high turnout.