The fractured nature of Jharkhand’s popular mandate, as seen in the 2009 Assembly election, possibly represents the state’s unique demographic character. Many political experts have tried to analyse it, but in vain.
However, the Modi wave, which saw the BJP bag a bulk of the seats from the state in the General Election, may leave a ripple effect in the Assembly polls scheduled for later this year. Notwithstanding adverse predictions, the BJP won 12 of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in the tribal-dominated state. This was despite the fact that the Congress had pulled out all stops to increase its vote share.
Until January 2013, Congress president Sonia Gandhi avoided supporting a Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM)-led government in the state. But she buckled and supported the party led by Shibu Soren in the hope that such a tie-up would give the ailing national party the same result as from the 2004 General Election, when the combine won nine of the 14 Lok Sabha seats on offer.
As part of the deal, JMM’s Hemant Soren was sworn in as the chief minister on 13 July 2013 with the support of the Congress after a bout of President’s rule.
Of late, the BJP has been gaining ground thanks to an exodus of leaders from the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha-Prajatantrik (JVM-P). The JVM(P) was founded by Jharkhand’s first chief minister, Babulal Marandi, who left the BJP to form his own party in 2006.
The desertions started after as many as seven of the 11 JVM(P) MLAs met BJP national president Amit Shah.
On 31 July, JVM(P) MLAs Jai Prakash Singh Bhokta (Simaria), Nirbhay Shahabadi (Giridih), Samresh Singh (Bokaro) and Chandrika Mahtha (Jamua) joined the BJP. Days later, Fulchand Mandal (Sindri) followed suit. Two more MLAs, Dullu Mahto (Baghmara) and Nizamuddin Ansari (Dhanbar), are also expected to join the exodus.
TEHELKA spoke to three JVM(P) leaders who are potential candidates for the upcoming Assembly election. The feeling shared by these leaders, possibly a refraction of the cadre sentiment, is that the Lok Sabha election showed that support for the JVM(P) is on the wane. Marandi, who was the sitting MP from Koderma, lost his seat. So did former cop Ajay Kumar, who had won the Jamshedpur Lok Sabha constituency in a 2011 bypoll.
“This is a clear indication of what the people want,” says BJP leader and three-time chief minister Arjun Munda. “Many leaders are quitting the JVM(P) because that is what the people want. Soon, there will be more politicians joining us, and not just from the JVM(P).”
Munda is the frontrunner for the CM’s post, subject to the central leadership’s approval. Of course, it is now up to Amit Shah. Munda will get his mentor Rajnath Singh’s backing. But, it should be noted that his rival Raghuvar Das was the first leader from the state to reach out to Narendra Modi, as early as January 2013.
Marandi has stood for clean politics, which had attracted many leaders to his party. He had carefully avoided leaders of questionable repute. But the prospect of an “assured victory” thanks to the after-effects of the Modi wave is attracting JVM(P) leaders back to the BJP, which most of them had left with Marandi for better prospects.
“It is like a homecoming of prodigal sons who had left our fold,” says a BJP leader on the condition of anonymity. “Marandi was also offered a chance to return before the Lok Sabha election, but he had set certain conditions, which were not acceptable to us. Anyway, the offer is no longer on the table because he wants to be chief ministerial candidate, which pits him against two other contenders for the post — former CM Arjun Munda and senior leader Raghuvar Das.”
But Marandi remains nonplussed and says that the BJP is “low on moral value and high on monetary value”.
“The BJP is being run by misusing money power and there is a complete lack of ethics and principles,” says Marandi. “They should have asked the MLAs to resign from their posts before joining the BJP. Others had also joined the BJP before the Lok Sabha polls but they resigned from their seats and the party before doing so.”
Reacting to the offer to rejoin the BJP, he says, “I will go back to what I did in 2006 when I had built the party from scratch. Even if a mud hut, one’s own house is always more comfortable than a five-star accommodation.”
Despite the recent setbacks, Marandi insists that he has no intention of going for a pre-poll alliance and his party is likely to go it alone in all the 81 Assembly seats.
In the current Assembly, the BJP has 23 MLAs, including five JVM(P) legislators who joined recently, followed by the JMM (18), the Congress (13), the JVM(P) (6), the All Jharkhand Students Union Party (6) and the RJD (5).
The JMM is also a shadow of its former self, but spokesman Supriyo Bhattacharya says the anti-BJP sentiment might work in their favour in the polls. “Like the rest of the country, the electorate in Jharkhand is also split between the extreme right-wing that has gone over to the BJP and the rest, who will favour us,” he says. “The JVM(P) has lost relevance.”
He goes on to add: “During the recent Lok Sabha election in Behragora constituency, the people voted for the BJP candidate who was earlier with the JMM. In such seats, our organisation is strong and we intend to win them back.”
The optimism may be misplaced because the JMM stands to lose some of its seats to the BJP. For instance, take the tribal-dominated districts of Palamu zone where the JMM’s rallies failed to draw crowds in an area where left-wing extremists and their splinter groups and vigilantes call the shots.
One of the main reasons for the fractured mandate in Jharkhand is the mushrooming of regional parties and how each one tries to cater to different vote banks based on identity. The JMM has mostly tried to get the tribal and Muslim vote, while the Congress is also focussed on the tribal and minority vote. There is a lack of all-out support for the BJP from the tribal communities but it has got by on the non-tribal population. The AJSU Party has tried to cater to the Other Backward Caste vote, but this section seems to be overwhelmingly favouring the BJP, though it cannot be confirmed until the Assembly election results are in.
There is little hope for the Congress to win beyond its existing 13 seats, barring a last-minute miracle and help from the JMM based on a seat-sharing pact, which is currently under discussion. The parties hope to make an announcement after Independence Day.
The BJP has a lot going for it, such as the Modi factor, Munda’s last stint as chief minister, which increased his popularity, and politicians migrating to the party. For the JVM(P), it is going to be a painful task of reconstruction. But the acid test is for the JMM, which has not only lost leaders to the BJP, but has to deal with this being the first election when it will be steered by chief minister Hemant Soren.