THAT JHARKHAND should continue to have a double-engine government — Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi and Chief Minister Raghubar Das in Ranchi — for its growth has been the main narrative of the BJP in this Assembly election. And from Ranchi to Jamshedpur and Hazaribagh to Dhanbad, giant campaign billboards put up by the party have photographs of a smiling Das shaking hands with Modi.
But on the ground, Das’s image and his perceived arrogant style of working seem to be dragging his party to the edge and leaving it anxious. With two phases of polling over and three more to go, there is no clear signal still on which way the wind is blowing, but two strands of thought are visible — the yearning for a stable government and the desire to see a new chief minister.
The nature of the impulse is perhaps contradictory and can be confusing. The desire to see a stable government stems from the
assumption that a multi-party government will be wobbly, given the reputation of the leaders and MLAs in Jharkhand to switch parties like “kurta pyjama”. While the BJP is fighting alone, the Opposition JMM has stitched an alliance with the Congress and RJD.
Just six months after the BJP won 12 of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in the state, Das looks unpopular while the Modi government retains much of its sheen, despite the downturn in the economy and its pernicious impact. BJP workers admit there is anger, but are hoping that Modi will ultimately steer the party through and the double-engine mantra will click. And, they hope, that the people will vote for stability instead of a “khichdi” government.
Across the districts of Ranchi, Ramgarh, Hazaribagh, Giridih, Bokaro, Dumka, Dhanbad and Jamtara, there is anger against Das over the way he handled the protests by para-teachers and anganwadi workers, and unhappiness over the “lack” of new recruitments by the Jharkhand Public Service Commission (JPSC) and Jharkhand Staff Selection Commission (JSSC).
The protests by para-teachers and anganwadi workers had ended in police lathicharges on the streets of Ranchi — these visuals were telecast by local television channels. The Das government’s aborted attempt to reach out to non-tribals by making changes in the CNT and SPT Acts (Chhota Nagpur Tenancy Act and Santhal Parganas Tenancy Act) does not find much echo in non-tribal regions.
Neither are communally coloured issues like mob lynching a topic of conversation (the Congress too maintains a tactical silence). There is only an odd mention of the scrapping of Article 370 and the Supreme Court’s verdict on Ayodhya, and Modi draws praise for both. The conversations invariably turn to local candidates, caste arithmetic and bread-and-butter issues.
In Dumka, the conversation among some youths quickly veers to government job recruitments in the state. All of them say they are BJP supporters, but admit the talk in their WhatsApp groups is about how this government has done little to fill up vacancies.
“There has to be a change. They will have to realise the shortcomings. Only then will there be an improvement. Modi is the right person for the Centre. I voted for him, and will vote for him again. I am a BJP supporter. My entire village is BJP. But here, the government has not been able to conduct JPSC and JSSC examinations in the last five years. What will youths like me do? There are about 19,000 vacancies,” says Pranay Sinku, a graduate.
Cut to Giridih. Sunny Kumar Singh, who works with a nationalised bank’s credit card marketing section, says he could press the “lotus button” on the EVM machine, just like previous times. “But I hope not. Dekhiye Modi number one hain (Modi is number one). We don’t have any complaints against him… he is working in the national interest. But at the end of the day, if there is no recruitment in our state, what is our future,” he says. In the last five years, he says, government job recruitment has been limited to 24,000 sub-inspectors.
Sachin Kumar Shaw, a shopkeeper who voted for the BJP in the general elections, says there is a difference between Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. “Dekhiye kya hota hain (Let’s see what happens),” he says.
BJP leaders admit the problem. “Para-teachers are angry. People are also unhappy that there was a lathicharge on anganwadi sevika and sahayika. So the BJP will lose some seats, but we will form the government,” says Tilak Kumar Das, a mandal president of the BJP’s SC morcha in Bagodar constituency of Giridih district.
In the past, the BJP has suffered because of the unpopularity of its chief ministers. While the party was voted out in Rajasthan largely because of the negative perception about Vasundhara Raje, its below-par performance in the Haryana elections was blamed on Manohar Lal Khattar.
“Kya bolta hain pata bhi nahin hain. Ulta pulta bol deta hain. Aap suniyega bhashan, pata nahin kya kya bol deta hain (He doesn’t don’t know what he says. He talks rubbish. Listen to his speech, we don’t know what he says). He had said everybody will be given tablets, but that didn’t happen. Par niklega toh Modi ke badaulat niklega (If he wins, it will be thanks to Modi). Waise to kattar BJP hain… par is baar naraz hain (I am otherwise a strong BJP supporter, but this time there is a little anger),” says Vivek Kumar, who had contested a mukhiya election in Mandu assembly segment.
The talk at a tea shop outside the block office in Tundi too is about the caste permutations. Asked about the elections, they say they can’t talk because they are government employees. But then they add, “Aap apni taraf se likhiye ki hum log naraaz hain (You write that we are angry).”
Their grievance is primarily about the new pension scheme and non-implementation of pay and benefits on the lines of the Sixth Pay Commission’s recommendations. And there is mention of Das. “The Chief Minister tells an IAS officer that I made you DC. Aise bolte hain kya (should he say this),” says one.
While there is not much praise for Das, many from the economically weaker sections say the BJP will return to power — “Kamal phool hi aayega (the lotus will win),” is their cryptic answer, without much elaboration. When prodded, they talk of housing and free gas connection schemes being implemented by the central government.
In an election where there is no clear wave, the contest seems to have narrowed down to seats, to caste equations of the candidates and performance of the local MLAs. And the favourite topic is how most of the candidates have moved from one party to the other.