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Modi-Shah’s BJP has won state elections on national issues but Jharkhand can be a rude shock

BJP’s Jharkhand unit worries that the party may have banked too much on PM Modi and Amit Shah, its star campaigners for quite some time now.

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For tribal people in remote villages of Jharkhand, where voting in the ongoing assembly election ends today, it is life as usual. They are unconcerned about the impeachment of US President Donald Trump, the death sentence awarded to former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf, or the protests raging in India over the amended Citizenship Act. Their concerns arise from the slowing economy because their daily life and wages hinge on it.

Yet, for most candidates and political parties in this election, the result of which will be announced Monday, the people in this remote, land-locked tribal state must have everything to do with all the global, regional and national events currently making news. Which is why the campaign speeches of leaders, from the Congress to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), were littered with every issue except those that directly concern the tribal populace.

Ace campaigners of the BJP – of late only Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah – have spoken about terrorism emanating from Pakistani soil, the dangers of cross-border terrorism, of “infiltrators” trying to enter India “using the Nepal border”, and the promise of constructing a magnificent Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. Lower-rung leaders have made valiant attempts at highlighting the plight of minorities in neighbouring Islamic countries and how the BJP government is committed towards protecting them. Not to be left behind, the opposition has vociferously countered the narrative and vowed to protect the Constitution, if elected.

Also read: Toilets without doors, incomplete houses — govt schemes in Jharkhand a job half done

Local issues, local candidates

The only ones who covered local issues in their election speeches during the entire campaign in Jharkhand were the independent candidates, some of them rejected by both national parties, the BJP and the Congress, or leaders of regional parties with no say in national politics but who hold tremendous clout locally. It wouldn’t be a surprise if some of them manage to register a win, even if with a wafer-thin margin.

It is possible that the Jharkhand election may result in a hung assembly.

If that happens, it should work as a reminder to the national parties, which make policies and provide the development and budgetary assistance to smaller states when they are in power at the Centre, that dwelling on national and international issues doesn’t always pay dividends.

PM Modi and Amit Shah have raised local issues like the Naxal menace and the lack of development in tribal and rural areas, and their rallies have had better attendance than nearly all other leaders across parties. So it remains to be seen which way Jharkhand, carved out of Bihar in 2000 when the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government was in power – something Shah promptly reminded voters at one of his rallies last month – would go.

Also read: Modi govt’s rural roads scheme enters third phase but many states yet to meet past targets

BJP’s campaign strategies

The BJP has managed to run high-profile campaigns touching upon issues that are not necessarily local and yet managed to win a comfortable number of seats in other state elections. One reason why the party succeeds in this strategy is that people continue to be enamoured with the charisma of PM Modi, who is unrivalled in leadership. People believe him and repose trust in his appeals of furthering development projects. Contrary to this, local and senior Congress leaders, seem to lack this appeal and trust among the voting public.

Besides, the BJP also has an efficient and robust grassroots level cadre that gears up for elections long before other parties do. This cadre force is supplemented by a number of local-level social organisations and non-governmental outfits started and supported by the ideological fountainhead of the BJP, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Thus, the unmatched charisma of PM Modi, the excellent organisational capacities of the party’s former president Amit Shah, and untiring work of the cadre that fans out to every voting booth, give a tremendous edge to the BJP, no matter what subject the election campaign revolves around.

Also read: Why Priyanka Gandhi made a surprise last-minute dash to Jharkhand 

And yet, the worry

But there is considerable concern among sections of the BJP at the state level that the party may probably have banked too much on the capabilities of its two star campaigners in the Jharkhand election this time around. The stunning and almost unexpected defeat in the Chhattisgarh assembly election in December 2018, after being in power for 15 years under the towering local leader Raman Singh, has frequently crossed their mind. The BJP in Chhattisgarh was reduced from 49 seats to 15 seats in the 90-member assembly, ceding the state to the Congress.

It is nobody’s argument that the rural and tribal population is ignorant of the national issues, cross-border terrorism or the woeful persecution of the minorities in neighbouring countries. Similarly, election results in highly populated cities have driven home the point that local issues, such as better living conditions, affordable housing, and law and order, tend to determine the outcome.

The BJP appears to be in a better position in Jharkhand and may overcome the anti-incumbency issue. But the real test for the party will begin after the victory. The BJP will have to strive hard to solve people’s problems at the local level, arrive at a consensus while respecting the support base of its rival parties, and lead Jharkhand to wider economic development and greater heights.

The author is a member of the National Executive Committee of the BJP and former editor of Organiser. Views are personal.

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  1. For once, I pray, hope, wish, hold my breath that Chari is correct. These two, Modi- Shah are subjected to the law of diminishing returns. During Modi’s first term he talked ad nauseaum of development but this time around development has been consigned to the garbage bin and it is in-your-face hindutva. Probably he realizes that development is lot more work and it is easier to sway his mindless followers by these fanatical actions. I am so glad that these students have taken over the space vacated by our impotent opposition.

  2. The article gives a sound advice to BJP that while presence of Modi and Shah can definitely add a bit but there is a limit to their appeal as state elections need focus on state level issues and performance of BJP governments should be creditable in this regard. It is a matter of fact that success of BJP at the national level is largely due to the good work and charisma of Modi and his clean image. At state levels, most of the BJP leaders are not very inspiring in their performances. Interestingly, in Maharashtra, despite good work and clean government by Fadnavis, BJP fell short by a big margin and this shows that despite Modi, voters look for something else during state elections. Congress is the default beneficiary of this poor performance by BJP. BJP needs many capable leaders a state levels ( as also at national levels!!) and this is a major challenge for it. Otherwise, we will have a situation wherein at the national level, it will be BJP with Modi as the PM and most of the states under non BJP parties. This will be a sure disaster for the country, as we will be busy with political bickering all the time and Rajya Sabha will act as a stumbling bloc for important legislations,

  3. If a member of BJP’s National Executive Committee is not optimistic of BJP getting a majority, the reality is likely to be worse.

  4. It’s strange that a member of the National Executive Committee of BJP is washing his linen in public. It looks that BJP doesn’t see any rational in Chari’s arguments and he is on his way out to nowhere.

  5. It is strange to know that the author who is a member of the National Executive Committee of the BJP is unaware about who is the national president of the party. The author has mentioned Amit Shah as the former president of the BJP. Shah is both the Union Home Minister and the National President of the BJP. Jagat Prakash Nadda is the national working president of the BJP as on December 20, 2019.

  6. If the current state of affairs in the country is because of limited knowledge of national issues from both Tom and Dick, you can surmise the 40% dumb electorates voting for them have even less know-how, A recent survey of more than a lack respondents said Bihar, UP and Rajas than are the most corrupt states in India. They are the top in the top 8 corrupt state list

  7. Modi and shah are more intelligent than you. If they think local issues work, Then they would have campaigned on these issues. I can say one thing that nothing that big happened locally in Jharkhand. So that they are speaking on national issues

    • But then Modi/Shah would lose Jharkhand, for speaking on national issues, which no one in Jharkhand is interested in, or understands!

    • Yes you are right those two Thugs Modi & Shah knows very well they will deploy there chamchas for various incidence such as wearing skull cap & indulge in riots there so many such advetures of these two Thug gladiators in Gujarat where voters can even smell theor plan .For example where their is a strong candidate of opp against them they will put up one stooge from opp bribing him for division of votes.There are so many such instances of these two Thugs.

  8. It is good in a federal polity for local elections to be fought largely on local issues. That was seen to a large extent in Maharashtra recently. To the extent the Centre has a role to play, it should be in the form of lots of good news on national achievements, starting with the economy.

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