You know it’s poll year when you see flag-bearing bicycles and elephants in Jharkhand. The streets of Ranchi are at present filled with the Samajwadi Party insignia because Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav will arrive in the state capital on 4 September to address about 50,000 party workers from across the state on 5 September.
Samajwadi Party (SP) state president Meraj Khan, who lives in the coal city of Dhanbad, is leading the preparations in the state capital for the party’s heir apparent to discuss strategy for the upcoming general elections in 2014.
The strategy is somewhat akin to that adopted by Gujarat CM Narendra Modi: the party, according to Khan, intends to use its ‘model of governance in UP’. Khan said, “The CM has delivered on poll promises and even passed state legislation in that regard.” But Khan could not outline the strategy they had in mind to take on the BJP which won eight of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in Jharkhand in the 2009 polls
When pointed out that several parts of Jharkhand were bastions of the Sangh Parivar and Modi’s popularity was increasing, an angry Khan retorted, “What Modi? All the craze about him and his work is limited to Gujarat.” However, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has been expanding over the years here. And the Modi craze is quite apparent in Jharkhand, which has had nine chief ministers and three stints of President’s Rule.
In 2009, the SP had contested 10 seats and in 2014, they plan on contesting all 14 seats. In the 2009 state assembly elections, even the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had fared better than the SP. BSP had won 2.85% of votes in the 78 seats contested, while the SP had won only 1.35% in the 19 seats contested. Election deposits of SP candidates had been forfeited in all 19 constituencies.
The 5 September meeting in Morhabadi will focus on how to make a dent in the already fractured mandate of Jharkhand. The SP hopes to use their pro-minority and pro-Yadav stance. As per the 2001 census, the tribal population is around 26.3%, of which 91% live in rural Jharkhand. The tribal vote is divided between the Congress and the Sibu Soren-led Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), which are now leading the state government. The other partner in the ragtag coalition is the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and around six independents, mostly tribals.
The BJP takes a section of the tribal vote by using tribal MLAs in several tribal dominated areas such as former CM and BJP’s ex-national general secretary Arjun Munda. The present deputy speaker of the Lok Sabha is Karia Munda, who won on a BJP ticket from Khunti constituency. Khan said that the SP, which has started recruiting tribal leaders, expects to take a chunk of the tribal vote. Without mentioning names, he added, “Several tribal leaders are joining our ranks.”
One of the key winning factors for the SP in UP is the Muslim vote. In Jharkhand, the JMM, with several Muslim MLAs, wins most of the Muslim votes, while the rest goes to the Congress. “In UP, 80% of the Muslim vote is with the SP and we can achieve the same thing here. Even the Santhals (who are around 35% of the tribal population) are tired of supporting the JMM,” said Khan.
Khan has made an executive committee with Kedarnath Yadav, Ranjit Yadav and Pankaj Prasun Tiwari as vice presidents and seven general secretaries. The OBC vote in Jharkhand comprises of Yadavs and the Mahtos, who vote primarily for the RJD in Koderma district and Santhal Parganas (located in the north), despite the division of Bihar.
While divisive tactics might work in UP, the one emerging factor in Jharkhand the SP needs to be careful about is the state’s first chief minister Babulal Marandi. Marandi floated his own party, JVM (P), after splitting from the BJP. The JVM (P) has 11 MLAs and two LS MPs and commands a portion of the OBC vote. Experts say it will win more seats in the upcoming elections, giving the Congress, BJP and JMM a run for their money.