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5 reasons why BJP lost Jharkhand assembly elections

The BJP battling anti-incumbency backed an unpopular chief minister and did little course correction despite being aware of it.

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New Delhi: The BJP has lost another state, with the party finishing behind the JMM-Congress-RJD alliance in the Jharkhand assembly results that came Monday.

The defeat comes in the wake of the party losing in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh over the past year. In Maharashtra, although the BJP emerged as the single-largest party, it failed to form government.

As of 7.45 pm, according to the Election Commission (EC) website, the BJP had won 11 seats and was leading in 15 others, still 25 seats short of the majority mark in the 81-member assembly. The JMM-Congress-RJD alliance, meanwhile, had won 20 seats and was ahead in 26 — and well on course to form the government.

A number of factors have worked against the BJP in Jharkhand, chief among them being anti-incumbency, evident in the fact that Chief Minister Raghubar Das, known to be backed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, is trailing by over 16,000 votes in his Jamshedpur East constituency.

Das is set to lose to BJP rebel Saryu Roy, who had challenged the chief minister before the election. He had won the constituency by a massive 70,157 votes in the 2014 elections.

Another BJP heavyweight, state unit president Laxman Giluwa is trailing by over 11,000 votes at Chakradharpur while outgoing Speaker Dinesh Oraon is trailing by over 34,000 votes at the Sisai assembly constituency.

What sets this loss apart is that the BJP was aware that its chief minister was highly unpopular but the party high command, the Modi-Shah duo, still decided to support him, a strategy that has backfired.

It also set the tone for the elections as Das had not only angered tribals in the state by his policies but also his own party, which viewed him as an “arrogant disciplinarian”.

Here are five reasons that cost the BJP the Jharkhand elections.

Also read: Biggest upset in Jharkhand elections — CM Raghubar Das losing to his ex-minister Saryu Roy 

A tribal backlash

One of the chief constituents that Das angered was Jharkhand’s tribals, who constitute about 26.3 per cent of the state’s population. Das’ elevation as chief minister itself was part of the BJP’s strategy to back a non-tribal for the post.

But it was his policies that fuelled resentment among the tribals. The chief minister diluted the state’s tenancy act and softened the Land Acquisition Act in 2018, leading to fears it would make it easier to acquire tribal land.

The chief minister, however, back-pedalled after widespread protests.

“Land is a very emotive issue in India,” a BJP leader said. “And tribals are very possessive about their land rights. The legislation created fear among tribals and it boomeranged on us. The Opposition also played its cards very well.”

It was the starting point of his unpopularity, which only grew after he promised an OBC reservation of 14 per cent to counter the tribal bloc. The Congress, however, outdid him by promising 27 per cent reservation, a strategy that appears to have worked.

The move angered the state’s tribals even further. For the BJP, there was a way out but the party refused to change tack.

In the middle of the elections, one senior general secretary had even admitted that Das was unpopular in the state. “We know that the chief minister is highly unpopular but at this point, the party can’t do anything,” he said.

The BJP could have replaced Das with senior leader and former chief minister Arjun Munda but it decided against it.

All of it appears to have come together in the elections. Although there are 28 constituencies reserved for Scheduled Tribes, there are at least three more that are tribal-dominated.

Of the 31 tribal-dominated seats, the JMM and the Congress are leading in 22 seats with the BJP ahead in only nine of them.

Also read: Jharkhand poll results is not BJP’s, but my defeat, says CM Raghubar Das 

Dissent, discord at local level costs party

Despite party president Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s backing of Raghubar Das, there was dissent against his leadership in the state unit.

Chief among the revolters was seasoned leader and state minister Saryu Roy, who is set to beat Das at Jamshedpur East.

Much of the dissent was fuelled by the ticket distribution with Das being accused of scuttling the prospects of those backing his rivals in the party, particularly supporters of former CM Arjun Munda. Others sidelined included supporters of Roy.

One state BJP leader told ThePrint that to control the organisation, Das systematically tried to weaken Munda, a three-time chief minister, and his associates.

“At one point, the chief minister instructed officials not to call Munda to a state government function,” the leader said. “This resentment and factionalism cost the party.”

Another BJP leader said the party lost at least five seats due to wrong ticket distribution and alienation of senior leaders.

Also read: Congress on winning side in Jharkhand but questions on relevance of Gandhis remain 

Party hoped a multi-pronged contest would help. It didn’t

The BJP ignored its allies, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and the JD(U), but more importantly, dumped the All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU), a party that has pockets of influence.

The BJP hoped that the AJSU contesting alone would split the anti-incumbency votes. The AJSU has won two seats and garnered 7.96 per cent of the vote share. It still, however, hasn’t prevented the opposition alliance from surging ahead.

One political analyst told ThePrint that the AJSU and its leader Sudesh Mahto hold sway over the Kurmi vote-bank in the state and may have helped the BJP.

“If both parties had fought together, they would have repeated their 2014 performance,” the analyst said.

Different voting patterns in state and Lok Sabha elections 

The Jharkhand result has once again shown, after Maharashtra and Haryana, that voters are now distinguishing between local and national issues. The BJP has lost Jharkhand just six months after winning 12 of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in the state.

The loss is all the more pronounced as Modi held eight rallies and Shah held 11 and hinged the party’s campaign on the Citizenship Amendment Act, the Ram Temple issue among others while ignoring unemployment, rural distress and land and forest rights, all of which concern Jharkhand.

“The message is clear — Modi can’t win every state election. The BJP has to also now bank on mass leaders in the states not appointed by the Centre,” a senior BJP leader said.

Economic slowdown, poverty

Jharkhand is the second poorest state in the country and has 46 per cent of India’s poor tribals as against the national average of 28 per cent. The state’s economy is powered by steel plants, mines and the auto industry in Jamshedpur.

The economic slowdown, however, has massively hit the mining and quarrying sectors. In 2018-19, 44 per cent of development projects stalled in Jharkhand, the highest in India, due to a lack of investment and land issues.

The BJP government had in 2014 promised more investment and jobs but rural unemployment is higher than the national average in Jharkhand, according to NSSO data.

This is one election where the impact of economic slowdown has been felt as the BJP is trailing in most of the rural seats at Chotanagpur and Santhal Pargana divisions.

Also read: BJP loses majority in Jharkhand: Are Modi-Shah no longer decisive factors in state polls? 


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