Jharkhand CM Raghubar Das during the campaign (Image: Twitter/@dasraghubar)
The Jharkhand election result is a resounding take down of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP's) campaign which was based on non-local issues, such as the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and the rhetoric of weeding out infiltrators from India. Nothing seemed to have helped the BJP buck the anti-incumbency wave in tribal-dominated Jharkhand even though in the Lok Sabha elections in May the BJP bagged 11 of the 14 seats in the state.
The extent of the BJP’s disconnect with the expectations of the large section of state's people is also clear from the fact that it was not able to gauge the resentment that its Chief Minister evoked both within and outside the party. This disconnect prevented the party from course correction till just before campaigning began, when it projected Prime Minister Narendra Modi and sought to win votes in his name. However, the internal dissensions and the party's inability to carry allies along further worsened its chances.
At the time of publication, Chief Minister Raghubar Das himself was trailing behind rebel leader and former Cabinet minister Saryu Rai from the Jamshedpur east constituency. If the BJP had come to power in 2014 on the back of a rainbow alliance of LJP and AJSU, this time around it is the Congress-Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-RJD alliance that has come on the top, upsetting the saffron party.
The Congress-JMM-RJD alliance is set to romp home as it looks set to cross the majority mark of 41 seats in the 81 member Assembly. It is clear that the BJP's decision to appoint Raghubar Das, as the first non-tribal chief minister in the hope of consolidating the non-tribal votes, has backfired. While the JMM has swept the tribal areas along with the Congress, the BJP, in the absence of allies, has lost major swathes of the state that was carved out of Bihar in 2000, when the BJP was in power at the Centre under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
The loss in Jharkhand for the BJP signifies other phenomenon afoot in politics. First the loss of power in Maharashtra, and now the electoral setback in Jharkhand — both these signify that the BJP’s vote-catching technique of projecting Modi as the leader and BJP President and Home Minister Amit Shah’s electoral strategies have diminished.
It also indicates that the strategy of appointing chief ministers from non-dominant communities in these states is not paying off. While Fadnavis failed in keeping together both the Shiv Sena and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), in Jharkhand, the Opposition targeted Das for his non-tribal status. In Haryana, the BJP managed to retain power under the chief ministership of ML Khattar only by appeasing the Jat-dominated Jannayak Janata Party (JJP).
The Jharkhand election also breaks the carefully crafted image of the BJP as an invincible party, especially after such a view got strengthened after its massive Lok Sabha victory. The results also point to the fact that the ruling party cannot ignore local issues and hope to brush it away by projecting nationalism and religion.
In fact, the BJP had become quite unpopular in the state and lost alliance partners, such as the All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU) and the Lok Jan Shakti Party due to its refusal to offer them a fair share of seats. Moreover, the image of Das as an inaccessible leader to his cadre alienated both allies and leaders within the party; this was clear from the resignation of several leaders, such as its principal spokesperson Praveen Prabhakar who quit the party on the eve of elections.
What perhaps mattered most was the widely-held perceptions that the BJP government in Jharkhand was both corrupt and incompetent as well as anti-tribal. The tag of being anti-tribal stuck to the BJP indelibly especially after the state government slapped thousands of poor tribals with sedition and other criminal charges in the wake of the tribal movement for self-rule (Pathalgadi in the local language) in 2017.
The election result comes bang in the middle of nation-wide protests over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the implementation of the NRC, and has ramifications that go beyond the eastern state.
In the immediate future, all eyes will be on the BJP to see how it responds to this verdict. In case of a hung assembly, there is suspicion that it will resort to Maharashtra-like tactics to try to win allies or delay government formation by hook or crook.
Also, ahead of the Delhi elections (to be held early next year) the Jharkhand election result rings a loud bell of caution for the increasingly top-heavy and centralised BJP. Will it continue with its nationalistic and religious rhetoric or will it focus on local issues, and, will it appease the local Jat and Punjabi factions of the Delhi unit which has oft-late been feeling ignored by the Poorvanchali faction led by state president and Lok Sabha MP Manoj Tiwari?
Even as these questions are for the BJP to answer, the Opposition can take heart in the fact that yet another state has been wrested back from the BJP. However, the happiest lot at this moment are undoubtedly those who are opposed to the unconstitutional and communal CAA-NRC moves. More than even the Congress it is the Muslims, Dalits, students and other opponents of these two decisions who are celebrating the Jharkhand results.Valay Singh is a freelance journalist. Views expressed personal.