The comprehensive defeat of the incumbent BJP in Jharkhand Monday by the regional alliance of JMM-Congress-RJD comes amid an economic slowdown and a nationwide ferment over the new citizenship law and the NRC. It also follows a below-expectation electoral performance in Maharashtra and Haryana — the party had to stitch up post-poll alliances to retain power in Haryana, and, in Maharashtra, it lost its ally Shiv Sena to the rival alliance after a failed bid at power.
One comfort for the BJP is the narrow difference in vote share — while the JMM-Congress-RJD got 35.25 per cent of the vote, the BJP, fighting alone, got 33.5 per cent.
However, adding insult to the party’s injury was the loss of its stars: CM Raghubar Das lost Jamshedpur East to Saryu Roy who had walked out of the party on the eve of elections; state party chief Laxman Gilua lost in Chakradharpur and outgoing Speaker Dinesh Oraon lost his Sisai seat.
BJP leaders were quick to distance Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the verdict — they admitted the debacle was a setback but quickly added that had it not been for the Prime Minister, the BJP’s tally would have been lower.
Opinion | Jharkhand portents
Said R Balashankar, member of BJP Central Committee on Training and Committee on Publications: “There is no indication that Modi’s popularity is on the wane. The defeat is because of local issues…It’s not enough to have a popular Prime Minister but we also need regional leaders who can pull in votes.” Pointing out that area under BJP rule has shrunk in half, Balashankar said: “Before and after these elections, BJP won with a clear majority in the Lok Sabha. This means regional leaders are not complementing PM’s popularity, they are not able to convince voters that local issues can be addressed better under their leadership.”
At the same time, there is a section in the party that faults the central leadership for its “adamant stance” on ticket distribution and its reliance on Chief Minister Raghubar Das, who, they argue, had become deeply unpopular. The leadership, these leaders said, discounted this feedback as “resentment” against the Chief Minister.
“After winning 303 seats in Lok Sabha, we have started walking and staring down everyone and anyone with our ‘three naught three’ (rifle). Flaunting Article 370, Ayodhya, CAA, as ideological successes, my way or the highway has been the approach of the leadership,” said another ruling establishment functionary as he explained why feedback within isn’t as honest as it should be. “That the CM was a liability was made obvious directly or indirectly by the state unit but this was never taken seriously by the leadership.”
At least three senior BJP leaders said the leadership was aware of the “not-so-bright prospects” of the party in Jharkhand where it could never win a simple majority on its own.
“There were internal reports about the Chief Minister’s (Raghubar Das) unpopularity. But the leadership felt that changing the CM in the last lap would have signalled admitting failure to voters,” said a senior party leader.
If the CM’s chemistry was a problem, so was the arithmetic, say leaders.
Balashankar said the party did not fight in a coalition while it was in government for five years in alliance with the AJSU. “If they had fought together they would have won. It was perhaps foolishness from our side not having the alliance,” he said.
Agreed Sanjay Seth, party MP from Ranchi. “It’s a setback. But we have worked hard. While we did not have allies, leading to a split in our votes, the Opposition was united,” Seth told The Indian Express.
BJP sources recalled how the party’s political tactics and ideological push both have been counter-productive. The choice of a non-dominant community CM in Raghubar Das, party leaders said, doesn’t seem to have worked as his policy decision on reform in land tenancy laws was seen as favouring non-tribal communities that antagonised tribals who constitute over 26 per cent of the population. Das’s ideological push on conversion and cow-related issues, party leaders said, also alarmed Christian tribal communities.
“We thought that after the below par performance in Maharashtra and Haryana, the party leadership would wake up to the risks of pitchforking Raghubar Das. But it did not happen,” said a party functionary who was closely involved with election spadework.
“The party leadership kept its eyes and ears shut after choosing the CM. They believed the CM knows all. With this support, the CM was out to finish the local leadership of the party. Saryu Roy is just one example,” said a BJP Lok Sabha member from the state suggesting that the leadership in Delhi can’t put all the blame on Das’s door.