The Lok Sabha elections in Jharkhand will be followed by Assembly polls at the conclusion of what is set to be the state’s first ever stable government. A look at the complex equations at play:
What is at stake in Jharkhand?
Like the rest of the Hindi heartland, Jharkhand too decisively voted in favour of the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, giving it 12 of the 14 seats. Only the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) held its own to some extent against the Narendra Modi mandate, winning two seats in its stronghold of Santhal Pargana. The stakes are high because after the Lok Sabha elections, Assembly polls are due in December. The BJP, which came to power in the state months after the Lok Sabha elections, has provided the only stable government the state has seen since its formation in 2000, but has to deal with a double dose of anti-incumbency. The Congress, on the other hand, has stitched together a multi-party alliance consisting of the JMM, Babulal Marandi’s Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (P) and the RJD. The Lok Sabha outcome will also set the tone for the Assembly elections.
Besides the BJP and Congress, how strong are the other players?
The JMM is the strongest among the regional parties with a substantial base among tribals in Santhal Pargana and Kolhan divisions. Politically, Jharkhand had been very volatile until 2014 with frequent changes of power and coalitions. Between 2000 and 2014, JMM founder Shibu Soren took oath as Chief Minister thrice and his son Hemant once. The JMM, which won 2 Lok Sabha seats with a 9.42% vote share, improved to 20.43% while winning 17 Assembly seats.
The other regional players of influence are Marandi’s JVM(P) and the AJSU Party, the latter a part of the ruling BJP coalition. The JVM(P) has pockets of influence in the tribal belts. Marandi himself is a five-term MP from Kodarma. Interestingly, it had secured more votes (21.25%) than the JMM in the Lok Sabha but came down to 9.99% (8 seats) in the Assembly elections. The AJSU Party, led by Sudesh Mahto, has 5 MLAs.
After sweeping the Lok Sabha seats, why was the BJP’s victory in the Assembly polls less comprehensive?
The Lok Sabha elections were a vote for Modi and even the JMM lost some of its tribal votes. But the Assembly elections followed the tradition of bringing into play regional factors and regional players. The question was who would become the Chief Minister. In contention were the Sorens, Marandi and Mahto. Jharkhand is home to four major tribal groups — Santhal, Munda, Ho and Oraon. While the BJP managed to get the Munda votes, the JMM retained in Santhali vote and the Congress made inroads into the Ho and Oraon vote-banks. The JMM won a majority of the seats in the Santal Pargana region. The BJP, meanwhile, banked on the non-tribal, non-Muslim votes, a strategy which worked largely to its advantage. Its vote share, however, dipped to 31.26% from 40.71% in the Lok Sabha elections.
Is the stability of the last five years likely to be a factor in the polls?
Jharkhand saw five Chief Ministers in nine tenures between 2000 and 2014, when Raghubar Das became CM. The stability factor may come into play in the Assembly elections, though possibly not so much in the Lok Sabha polls. The BJP will, of course, argue that the aspirations of the people of Jharkhand were not fulfilled over the years due to political instability and weak governments.
What are the main thrusts of the campaign so far? Are these going to be different in the two elections?
Some issues will overlap, but the Opposition clearly has two sets of issues for the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. The Congress and the Opposition have been targeting the Raghubar Das government accusing it of corruption in distribution of quilts, land acquisition and mining leases, and agitated over the death of infants in hospitals, changes in important tribal land laws, and the domicile policy. For the Lok Sabha polls, the Opposition will take up national issues like unemployment, Rafale deal, and demonetisation, while the BJP will continue to bank on Modi’s appeal. In the Assembly polls, the BJP will hard-sell the Das government’s achievements including global investor summits, schemes like the CM’s Sukanya Yojana for the girl child, reduction in Maoist attacks, property registration in the name of women for Rs 1, and new medical colleges. If 2014 was any indication, voter preferences can differ in the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
How key are tribal-non-tribal equations, especially with a non-tribal as CM?
Chief Minister Das belongs to the backward class, non-tribal Teli community. His elevation as Chief Minister was part of the BJP’s strategy to consolidate the non-tribal votes and the non-Yadav backward class votes. The BJP is hoping to ride on non-Muslim, non-tribal votes projecting Das’s credentials as an OBC leader. The government brought in two bills to amend tenancy Acts — Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act (CNTA) and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act (SPTA) — in 2017 but had to withdraw these following protests. Christian bodies and the Church had opposed the proposed amendments granting rights to tribals to make commercial use of his land without changing ownership.
The Congress has always banked on Muslim and Dalit Christian votes while the JMM and JVM have significant influence among the tribals. The Congress is also seen as an urban party. There are around 14-15% Muslims in the state but Hindu-Muslim polarisation has not been an important factor in elections in Jharkhand.