This reporter had a fairly simple request: to obtain the campaign schedules of Shibu and Hemant Soren. As usual, it hit the JMM wall of denial, outside Shibu Soren’s Dumka house, the youngsters regulating access to leaders inside the many rooms of the building brusquely said they would not help. At one point, a senior office bearer of the party familiar to this reporter emerged. When told of the request, he waved to an individual he called “bhagina” and asked him to provide the schedules. The youngster nodded and went into the house. He was never seen again that day. After about half an hour, we called Hemant Soren’s political advisor Himanshu Shekhar Chaudhary, who was not in Dumka: despite that, he made sure the schedules were emailed within 15 minutes. As for the youngster who went into the house, when this reporter met him the next day, he did not even remember the leader’s instructions.
To those familiar with the JMM, the anecdote would help capture the subtle yet sea change the party has undergone in the time Hemant Soren has been Chief Minister.
Soren has since taken that momentum into the political arena and has used it to present himself as the only obstacle to the BJP’s attempt at forming a government on its own in Jharkhand. He may not succeed in that attempt — as Jharkhand votes in the last phase on Saturday, the BJP remains confident of picking up up to 50 seats for its alliance in the 81-member assembly.
Yet, the CM has managed to go toe-to-toe with the BJP’s might, throwing everything but the kitchen sink at them. In the process, he made everyone forget he is only a first-time-MLA who won with a majority of 2669 votes in a constituency long considered his party’s stronghold; that just over a year ago, even his party’s leaders were not confident in his abilities. “Whatever happens post-results, he has made sure of one thing: that he is an established leader now,” said a senior BJP leader.
Many say Chaudhary, who enjoyed the rank of Principal Secretary during the government’s tenure, was responsible for the transformation of Soren. He is part of a group of individuals being brought in by the new leader — a post-Jharkhand movement generation, almost all of whom are not adivasis. Soren’s preferences were reflected in his smart choice of candidates: luring Amit Mahato from the BJP to fight AJSU Party’s Sudesh Mahto in Silli, awarding a ticket to murdered Teli caste leader Tileshwar Sahu’s wife in Barhi when the AJSU denied her one and bringing on board former BJP leader Dinesh Sharangi’s son in Baharagora were among the many.
Despite knowing there was only a slim chance of the party winning in the Ranchi constituency, Soren gave the ticket to state women’s commission chairperson and writer Mahua Maji — a senior leader had requested the seat for himself — and ensured the JMM stayed in the news.
Candidates sorted, Soren launched himself into the campaign, working round-the-clock to make up for the fact that his party did not have as many leaders or resources as the BJP. The JMM’s campaign material turned heads; it used a lighter shade of green than the party’s traditional colours; Soren, appearing in various skin-tones, was professionally photographed. “He may be using only 10 hoardings, but his smart positioning has meant that they will do what we achieve with 100,” said a member of the BJP’s campaign team.
Soren also managed to extract the most of his ailing father, making sure Shibu Soren toured extensively in a helicopter. When the JMM perceived the regional media was favouring the BJP, it resorted to a form of disruption of its own: green-coloured notices, not mentioning the name of the publisher, was inserted into Hindi dailies using distributors. It detailed the familial relations within the BJP.
As the campaign progressed, it became clear that Soren was willing to do anything to defeat BJP candidates — he nominated weak candidates in a number of constituencies, especially of Congress leaders with whom he enjoys a good rapport. He went at the AJSU Party, with whose leader Sudesh Mahto he does not get along, at full force especially because it was in an alliance with the BJP. The JMM had too many candidates with connections to various left wing extremist groups: Soren was sending out the message that he would do anything for a win.
When this newspaper interviewed him, Soren refused to clarify whether there was a chance of him forming a post-poll alliance with the BJP. However, his proclamations during various campaign rallies indicated he was taking on the BJP without worrying about the consequences. It also helped that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was attacking the Sorens: the PM’s focus served to lionise Soren. As the campaign progressed to the Santhal Pargana, another thing became clear — Soren was no longer using the Secular card he tried in the Lok Sabha elections.
At the Santhal Pargana, Soren played on the paranoia among people about losing land rights (see Explained). He also gauged the general anti-industry feeling among adivasis in the state and took a stand against setting up industries and mines. It was a measure of his growth as a leader that PM Modi chose to campaign in both constituencies the CM is contesting from. However, those meetings seemed to turn the tide in the region, the BJP managed to organise massive rallies at Dumka and Barhait, giving the Sorens sleepless nights. However, a weak Election Commission should be a source of relief to the JMM: it has always been alleged that money and liquor play a significant part in the elections of the Santhal Pargana.
The JMM looks to be losing a few seats in the Santhal Pargana. However, the JMM’s fierce resistance has meant that the gains the BJP is set to make in the region will be from the losses of other parties, RJD, JVM-P and Congress could lose more than the JMM.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines