Having borrowed a former JMM legislator with rural appeal to be its candidate in Jamshedpur, the BJP is counting on ‘Modi wave’ in the urban area to win in its most prestigious fight in the state.
The BJP, which has the opportunity to win up to 13 of the 14 seats in Jharkhand, could consider it a failure if it loses Jamshedpur, home to some of its tallest state-based leaders. That the party managed to lose the seat it had won in 2009 — with a state-high majority of 1.2 lakh — in a 2011 by-election by 1.56 lakh votes makes it a revenge mission too.
The by-poll was necessitated by the resignation of Arjun Munda, who quit this seat after becoming chief minister. The then president of the party’s state unit contested and lost to the party formed by Babulal Marandi, a former BJP CM himself.
BJP leaders are at pains to point out that the science of a bypoll is different from that of a general election. “For a bypoll, it is about the candidate — in 2011, it was about (JVM(P)’s) Ajay Kumar and how the city felt grateful for his contributions as a Superintendent of Police. Now, it is about forming a stable government in Delhi,” said Arjun Munda. Caste equations went out of the window to help Mangalore-born Ajay Kumar in 2011 — he received 37.4 per cent votes while the BJP, which came second, got only 16.3 per cent and its candidate had to forfeit his deposit.
When it was first reported that Munda was weaning Bahragodda’s first-time JMM MLA Bidyut Baran Mahto to the BJP as a possible candidate, most assumed it was only because the former wanted to weaken Shibu Soren’s party. However, party leaders say otherwise. “Bidyut is actually an RSS candidate — the Sangh put its foot down and used its veto for him,” said Saryu Roy, party leader and former MLA from Jamshedpur West. Rai was one of the leaders in the anti-Munda camp who advocated that the former CM himself contest against Ajay Kumar, but Munda chose to stay back and concentrate on becoming CM again.
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The party’s cadre has come together to support Bidyut Mahto, whom they perceive as a strong candidate in rural areas. His image as someone from humble beginnings not withstanding, the BJP hopes that Mahto will bring it the two-lakh-odd Kurmi votes of the constituency’s 15.81 electors. The constituency has the presence of Santhals too – who along with the Kurmis and Muslims, make up the three Ms (Majhi, Mahato, Muslim) that make up the JMM vote bank. The BJP hopes that the JMM’s Niroop Mahanty will split the Muslim vote that would otherwise have gone to the JVM.
“Bidyut is the perfect candidate. He takes care of the rural votes. We have to now concentrate on the urban areas and take the polling per cent to 60. The NaMo effect will do the rest,” said Abhay Singh, state executive member of the BJP. It is crucial for the BJP that the urban voter comes out to vote on April 17. The turnout in the two completely urban assembly constituencies — Jamshedpur East and West — were 44 and 39 per cent respectively in 2011. It was remarkably similar in 2009, at 44 and 38 per cent. However, raising the polling percentage is a dangerous game for the BJP — in Jamshedpur West, for instance, where Muslim voters are one-third of the electorate, this might backfire.
Winning the upper hand is crucial also because the BJP in Jamshedpur is predominantly an urban party — while Arjun Munda has grown from his Jamshedpur base to become a largely pan-Jharkhand leader, Saryu Roy and current Jamshedpur East legislator Raghubar Das have strong urban roots. “It is mere coincidence that all of us have come to be in Jamshedpur,” insists Saryu Roy, who was sent to the city by the party to contest in 2005. “Raghubar Das hails from here and has been active since winning in 1995,” pointed out Roy.
The BJP’s attempt to effect a massive pro-Modi wave with a rally on April 10 did not achieve the desired results.