Jharkhand reveals BJP's weakness in state elections

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Last Updated: Tue, Dec 24th, 2019, 20:58:24hrs
Jharkhand reveals BJP's weakness in state elections
As parts of the country deal with the fallout of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), counting for the Jharkhand state elections took place on Monday. The trends and subsequent result were clear – the BJP, which hoped to rule the state for another five years won’t be able to do so as the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM)-Congress alliance will form the new government.

The BJP, as with many national political parties, nationalise state elections with broader stakes; in this case it was the ongoing CAB policy which is facing widespread backlash and the state of the economy. The trend has continued with Haryana and Maharashtra, where the traditional ally of the Shiv Sena didn’t form an alliance with the BJP. The results now are a sharp contrast to the parliamentary elections earlier this year where the BJP won 12 of 14 constituencies. Outgoing Chief Minister Raghubar Das didn’t win his seat. As the Times of India editorial states, this is a saffron slide combined with anti-incumbency –

The reversal of results from the Lok Sabha elections points to considerable anti-incumbency against the Das government, with local issues appearing to have undercut the party in the assembly polls.Yet the party had confidence that it could return to power on the strength of the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who campaigned vigorously in the state. This has now proved to be overconfidence – the Modi magic looks to be waning”.

Since the formation of the state in 2000, the BJP has done well there. In Lok Sabha elections, the party has acquired a higher vote share as compared to assembly elections. Haryana and Maharashtra were probably precursors for their performance in Jharkhand; based on yesterday’s results, they are no longer the single largest party in the state.

Das, despite having the full backing of the national party and a relatively stable political tenure, didn’t bring it home for the BJP. Prior to the polls, the BJP’s alliance with the AJSU collapsed. On the other side, the Congress sealed an alliance with the JMM and RJD aiming to consolidate and take advantage of Das’s unpopularity. Rahul Verma, Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), New Delhi, in an column for the Hindustan Times, writes on the role of Raghubar Das in the loss –

When an incumbent chief minister loses along with many of his cabinet colleagues, there is a straightforward interpretation of the mandate. Results suggest that there is a limit to imposing leaders from the top. Das was widely considered as a non-performing chief minister, who also got himself embroiled in unnecessary factional feuds”.

The party’s performance in the Lok Sabha elections in May indicate that the BJP is still popular in many areas of the country. Modi continues to be a popular leader. However, perhaps some of the controversies that have come up over the past six months might have taken its toll. Despite a slowing economy, voters trusted the BJP to give them a second term. But, Article 370 and the CAB have captured national attention and continue to be a point of contention for the party which has been on the offensive on these particular fronts.

The performance in post the latest Lok Sabha elections are in contrast to its post-2014 performance, where the BJP went on to win Haryana and became the single largest party in Maharashtra and Jharkhand.What the party has been able to do nationally and state-wise last time hasn’t been the case this time around. Suhas Palshikar, chief editor of Studies in Indian Politics and co-director of Lokniti programme, CSDS, in a column for the Indian Express gives his assessment of the Jharkhand elections –

The BJP has not found it easy to repeat its performance in the parliamentary elections in the states. It would be unrealistic to deny the diffused popularity enjoyed by the BJP.So long as the PM’s personal popularity remains relatively high, the party can bask in reflected glory.With two-thirds of India keeping its distance from the BJP in state elections, it will be of immense interest how far the party can continue to push its agenda”.

Hemant Soren, the working President of the JMM will most likely become the next Chief Minister of Jharkhand. Being the chief ministerial face of the JMM-Congress-RJD alliance, he will likely be a key player in an anti-BJP coalition going forward. The son of former Union Minister Shibu Soren, he made his political debut in 2005 contesting in the assembly polls. After the death of his elder brother Durga, he assumed a leadership position in the JMM. Seen as a pro-tribal candidate, he led protests against proposed amendments to tenancy laws.

The results in Jharkhand stress the importance of a solid pre-poll alliance that this time the Congress was successful at, while the BJP wasn’t. As was the case in Maharashtra, the BJP’s lack of an alliance proved to be one of the major reasons its no longer the single largest party in the state. While the Congress cannot solely claim this victory, it can solace in being better prepared for future state elections. Jharkhand-based professor of political science, Birendra Kumar Sinha, in a column for Livemint, writes on what Soren and his alliance were able to do –

Opposition parties were successful in putting out an image of the chief minister as being anti-people and anti-tribal. The alliance led by Hemant Soren was successful not only in coming together but also in rallying the anger that people in general had against the government. They were more realistic and pragmatic in their approach”.

Does this create precedence for the BJP and election results going forward? The answer isn’t straightforward as the party is popular nationally, but has done poorly in state elections. Delhi and Bihar go to the polls next year. In Delhi, the party has the AAP to deal with and in Bihar, despite an alliance with Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), the prospects aren’t clear. The Indian Express editorial writes on the importance of local elections in the coming year –

States voting differently in the general election and in assembly polls is an indication of a powerful federal impulse that seems to have survived the BJP’s push for the centralisation of politics and governance. The Maharashtra and Jharkhand outcomes suggest that ignoring regional factors, and parties, could prove costly”.

More columns by Varun Sukumar