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The guessing game in Jharkhand

The five-phase Assembly elections in Jharkhand,which began on November 25,are likely to be dominated by four Ms — Maoists,Marandi,Madhu Koda and the Munda tribe.

Written by RAHUL VERMA |
December 8, 2009 2:45:25 am

The five-phase Assembly elections in Jharkhand,which began on November 25,are likely to be dominated by four Ms — Maoists,Marandi,Madhu Koda and the Munda tribe.

The Naxal threat looms large over the electoral process. They have made a mockery of security arrangements. In the last two years,they have abducted an MLA,murdered an MP and even killed ex-CM Babulal Marandi’s son. This election is a now-or-never chance for Marandi to become the new rallying point for tribals when the original architect,Shibu Soren,is fast aging. The third M,Madhu Koda has come to stand in for the corruption,political instability and bad governance that has marred the long cherished dream of a separate Jharkhand. After a fortnight’s hide and seek,Koda has now been arrested.

The Munda community is strategically important for the BJP. As Marandi’s JVM and Soren’s JMM are going to battle for the same tribal slice of Santhals,Orans and Hos,the BJP’s fortunes rest on the solid support from Mundas along with upper-caste and OBC votes,to cross the threshold in many of the twenty eight seats reserved for STs and nine for SCs in the eighty one member house. (Even though the process of reorganising constituencies under the fourth delimitation was completed in Jharkhand,elections in the state are being carried on the old boundaries. The fourth delimitation has been challenged in the Supreme Court,raising serious doubts over the 2001 Census on which the delimitation is based.)

Jharkhand has,by and large,remained a BJP stronghold since the 1991 Lok Sabha elections and the party always managed more than 25 per cent of votes except in the 2005 Assembly elections. And if the assembly segment-wise results of the 2009 Parliamentary election is an indicator,then it’s advantage BJP again.

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The party has deftly managed seat-sharing formulae with JD (U),showcasing Nitish Kumar’s record in Bihar and hitting hard at the Koda government’s misconduct. However the BJP may find itself in a spat over chief ministerial candidates and internal tension over the JD(U) not pulling its weight. What’s more,these calculations are easily upset if Jharkhand voters view national and state elections as distinct and consider six months a long gap.

There may be reason to believe in recent assessments of the BJP losing ground,but whether former BJP man Babu Lal Marandi can turn the tables in the Congress’s favour is the crucial question. The Congress has snapped ties with JMM for Marandi,who has been declared by various surveys as the most popular leader in Jharkhand.

Even though JVM got more than 35 per cent votes in the 19 seats it wrangled from the Congress in May 2009,the Congress-JVM alliance needs help,as many JVM workers have returned to their parent party since the Lok Sabha elections. The organisational hiccups within the alliance raise doubts about the parties’ ability to transfer votes to each other and add to the alliance’s social composition.

Secondly,the political fragmentation in the state that has seen six chief ministers in last eight years is witnessing a gradual shift in voter preference,from mainstream parties and allies to smaller political formations and Independent candidates. These local vote-pullers —mainly RJD,Left parties,splinter groups of JMM and Independents got around 35 per cent of the voteshare in the last two elections. Though their seats-votes ratio is asymmetrical,the trend opens interesting lines of inquiry as to whether voters choose these options when they lose confidence in mainstream parties.

Jharkhand’s demography raises another large question — why the Congress failed to secure even a quarter of the total votes polled in past elections when traditional support blocs like Adivasis (26 per cent),Muslims (13 per cent) and Dalits (11 per cent) constitute no less than half of state’s population. It is none other than the aforementioned local vote pullers that are pulling away a large proportion of votes from these backward communities. By extending reservation benefits to the Kurmi-Mahato community,the BJP has damaged the Congress’ and the JMM. In such a scenario,Soren needs to stake everything to retain his shrinking base,which hovered around 21 per cent of the votes in the 1991 Lok Sabha elections of present-day Jharkhand,which has dropped to 12 per cent in 2009. Soren must remember that organisations need to continuously reinvent themselves to remain relevant. Regional satraps like Lalu,who nurse ambitions beyond their state need to learn the art of devolving power by developing a credible leadership within their party in Jharkhand.

This fragmentation also reflects the voter’s resentment of non-performing governments in Jharkhand. The verdict on December 23,razor-edge as it is likely to be,will definitely reveal the ‘cost of ruling’ of the last four years.

The writer is with Lokniti,CSDS and these are his personal views.

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