Dumka (Jharkhand): Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) chief Hemant Soren is unfazed by the fact that Raghubar Das of the BJP has just become the state’s first chief minister to complete a full five-year term.
The BJP, he said in an interview to ThePrint, had tried to divide tribals, was after their land, and had exploited the state’s unemployed. This time, the people of the state will reject the saffron party’s divisive politics, Soren added.
“The BJP has tried to divide the tribals on religious lines. It’s a strategic move by the BJP and its team. The more you keep the people divided, the more your seat will be secure,” he said.
“That is why they make Sardar Patel’s monument, talk of making Ram temple, will seek votes from non-Christians.”
Soren, 44, is a former chief minister and son of JMM supremo Shibu Soren, a tribal leader who is one of the giants of Jharkhand’s struggle for statehood and a former chief minister himself.
Soren said the BJP had nothing to do with either Ram or Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, two figures it repeatedly invokes in voter outreach.
“These people have put crores of rupees in this (erecting monuments) when the economy is in doldrums. And yet they are not worried,” Soren added.
Jharkhand is currently in the middle of a five-phase assembly election, with the third phase of voting scheduled for Thursday.
In the 2014 election, the BJP emerged as the single-largest player in the state’s 81-seat assembly and went on to form the government with ally All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU).
It has also put up a stellar show in the past two Lok Sabha elections, winning 11 of the state’s 14 seats this year and 12 in 2014.
However, the leadership of Das, a non-tribal, is seen as a possible hurdle to the BJP’s campaign because he is seen as “arrogant”, including within the party, and often inimical to tribal interests.
‘Jal, jangal, jameen our core issues’
For the JMM, Soren said, the core issues in this election will be securing “jal (water), jangal (forest) and jameen (land)” of the tribals.
“The BJP is after tribal land. The central government violated the code of conduct and withdrew a draft bill to amend the Indian Forest Act just ahead of the [assembly] elections,” Soren added.
The proposed amendment would have given the state government powers to divest forest dwellers of their land. On 16 November, following criticism from tribal communities across India, Union Environment, Forest and Climate Change Minister Prakash Javadekar announced the withdrawal of the bill.
“The amended Act would have resulted in driving away people from the jungles,” Soren said. “The BJP would have seen the outcome of this in the first phase of elections.”
The JMM is contesting the assembly election in alliance with the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). Of the 81 assembly seats, the JMM is contesting from 43, the Congress from 31, and the RJD from seven.
The 2019 assembly election is crucial for Soren, given the JMM’s recent losses.
In the 2014 assembly polls, Soren lost stronghold Dumka to Louis Marandi of the BJP. Then, this year, the Dumka Lok Sabha seat was also lost to the BJP’s Sunil Soren, who defeated Shibu Soren by over 47,000 voters.
Soren, JMM leaders say, is under immense pressure to not only establish the party’s hold on the state against the BJP, but also retain pocket boroughs.
A big challenge for the JMM-Congress-RJD alliance, according to political analysts, is that it lost some ground initially because of dilly-dallying, mainly on the part of the Congress, on firming up a seat-sharing arrangement. The exit of the Babulal Marandi-led Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) was another setback.
“There is a perception that the opposition alliance is not very coordinated. It lost some ground because of indecisiveness,” said a Jharkhand-based political analyst.
Soren, however, said their fight was not about numbers. “We are political warriors and are treating this election like a war. We are fighting for a win,” Soren added, claiming that the departure of the JVM(P) “won’t have much of an impact”.
He also said his and his father’s loss from Dumka was not an indication that his party’s hold among tribals was on the wane.
Winning and losing is part of the game, he added. “Even prime ministers have lost elections… If we were doing politics for becoming MP or MLA, then Jharkhand would not have been a separate state,” he said.
“This state has been formed because of JMM, because of Shibu Sorenji. And despite having just a few MLAs, we succeeded in carving out a new state because we had the support of the people.”
‘Youths have seen through BJP’s empty promises’
Soren referred to resentment among tribals over the state BJP government’s failed bid to amend the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act, which restrict the sale of tribal land to non-tribals, but said they were not alone.
The hordes of jobless youths in the state have also seen through the BJP’s empty promises,” he added.
“In the name of Jharkhand momentum, the BJP has done a scam. Youth from the state were promised jobs and taken to cities outside the state,” he said. “They were promised Rs 15,000 but given Rs 5,000. The majority of them have now left their job and returned to Jharkhand. This government has hoodwinked people.”
The JMM, Soren said, has prepared a blueprint for the youth and will provide them with jobs. “They take a lot of pain to acquire their degrees. The present government has failed to create a single job,” he added. “They only kept misleading the people that they are creating jobs.”
Because of the central and state government’s policies, he said, “unemployment is rising not only in India but also in Jharkhand”. “Many of those who were employed in the private sector have lost their jobs.”