Jharkhand Election: Opposition banks on Tribal disaffection

In its 19-year history, Jharkhand has never voted for a single-party government. And, prevailing trends suggest that the state is unlikely to break the habit this time as well. Elections to the 81-member assembly, which were held in five phases, were over on December 20. With the ruling BJP failing to keep its allies together, chances for a fractured mandate are high when the votes are scheduled to be counted on December 23.

The BJP has adopted a cautious approach after Maharashtra and Haryana threw up disappointed results. Its government led by Raghubar Das—Jharkhand’s first non-tribal chief minister —is the first in the state’s history to complete its five-year term. The party has set a target of winning at least 65 seats. However, even in 2014 during the peak of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity, the party failed to win outright majority and had to rely on support of All Jharkhand Students Union, which had five MLAs. In 2009, the BJP had tied up with Jharkhand Mukti Morcha to form the government, with Sibu Soren as chief minister and Das as his deputy. The JMM now leads the opposition in the state.

The BJP is seeking votes with the promise of a double-engine government controlling the levers of power in Delhi and Ranchi. But with the AJSU, the Janata Dal (United) and Lok Janshakti Party walking out of the NDA, the BJP is facing a stiff challenge, a tough fight in at least 50 constituencies. Rajya Sabha MP, Om Mathur, who is BJP’s election in-charge in Jharkhand, however, expressed hope that his party would retain power as its double-engine government had ensured that all central government schemes reached the people.

“As many as 35 lakh people got LPG connections from Ujjwala Yojana, while lakhs of new houses were constructed in Jharkhand,” said Mathur. “The people feel that the remaining work can only be done by a stable government.”

Addressing an election rally at Chatra in northern Jharkhand, the BJP president, Amit Shah, said the law and order situation in the state had improved, with government successfully tackling the Maoist problem. He said Modi government had enhanced the allotment to the state to Rs 3,08,490 crores up from Rs 55,253 crores sanctioned by the Manmohan Singh government.

The appointment of Das as chief minister in a tribal-dominated state like Jharkhand was a political gamble by the BJP. Tribals constitute more than a quarter of the state’s population and 22 seats in the assembly are reserved for them. While Das managed to complete a full term, some of his policies invited the wrath of the state’s tribal population.

For instance, the Das government tried to amend the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act and the Santhal Pargan Tenancy Act, which have been in place from the British period. The government wanted to remove the provision which mandated the consent of village councils for acquiring land for development work. But, the government had to put the move on hold because the relentless opposition from the tribal population. The government was also forced to withdraw a bill to amend the Forest Rights Act.

“We joined hands with the BJP only to give a stable government for five years. But issues related to the people of Jharkhand were not taken up in the past five years,” said AJSU chief Sudesh Mehto. “There were efforts to tweak land laws and we had come out against the government’s move despite being a part of it. There has been a big change in the BJP’s behaviour. Choosing Raghubar Das as chief minister was a mistake. He never understood Jharkhand and its people.” Despite the harsh words, the BJP has not fielded a candidate against Mehto, keeping alive the chances of reviving the alliance after polls.

The BJP suffered yet another setback when cabinet minister, Saryu Roy, decided to contest against Das from Jamshedpur East assembly seat. Roy, who is famous for his anti-corruption campaigns, was instrumental in the conviction of former chief ministers Lalu Prasad Yadav and Jagannath Mishra of Bihar and Madhu Koda of Jharkhand.

While the NDA is going through a major crisis, the opposition United Progressive Alliance has managed to iron out differences and looks united under its chief ministerial candidate Hemant Soren of the JMM. The Congress and the RJD are the other members of coalition. “The Ragubar Das government used the elephant as mascot for its global summit to attract investors. But it ruined the state just like elephants damage the jungle. The youth, including children of BJP leaders, have become jobless”, said Soren.

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