Ranchi: For Raghubar Das, 65, the first non-tribal chief minister of Jharkhand, 23 December, the day of the state assembly results, could be a defining moment in his political career.
For, the outcome will not only decide his political future but a BJP victory will also prove his political backers right — chief among them Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.
The two most powerful men in the country had backed Das’ CM candidature overlooking complaints of factionalism within the state BJP, anger over his “arrogance” and large-scale resentment against him among the state’s tribals.
Such was the factionalism that the open tussle between Das and his former cabinet colleague Saryu Roy came to the fore just ahead of the assembly elections. It also demonstrated the backing that Das receives from the BJP high command.
Roy, who had levelled charges of corruption against the chief minister, was denied a party ticket forcing him to quit and contest as an Independent against Das from the Jamshedpur East constituency. The Congress fielded Gourav Vallabh, the party spokesperson known to get the better of BJP’s Sambit Patra in TV debates. The seat voted last Saturday.
The Modi-Shah backing
BJP insiders say Das has both Modi and Shah’s ears. “And they are backing him all the way,” a state unit BJP leader told ThePrint.
“The ticket selection was done completely based on Das’ recommendation. So much so that some party veterans were denied tickets on his recommendation, which has caused a lot of heartburn.”
It was the Modi-Shah team, the leader added, which in 2014 picked Das, a non-tribal and a native of Chhattisgarh to be the chief minister, overlooking many senior tribal and non-tribal leaders in the state BJP, including Kariya Munda, Saryu Roy and former chief minister Arjun Munda.
BJP insiders say that the reason he was picked to head the campaign again this time is not difficult to fathom. For one, Das is the first chief minister to complete a full five-year term in office since the state came into being in 2000. “He succeeded in giving a stable government in Jharkhand, which is a rarity. The state never had a history of a CM completing a full term,” they said.
Das, however, was no greenhorn to administration when he was picked for CM in 2014. He had served as the urban development minister when Munda was the CM in 2005 and was the deputy CM when the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) leader Shibu Soren took power in 2009.
Not new to controversy
Das’ earlier stint in the government as urban development minister was marred with controversy. In 2005, corruption allegations were levelled against him by the opposition. He was accused of favouring a Singapore-based firm that was awarded a Rs 200-crore contract to provide consultancy services for building sewerage and drainage systems in capital Ranchi.
Although the Munda government cleared him of all charges, a high-level panel of the Jharkhand assembly indicted him in the case. His former colleague Roy had also referred to this case in his complaint against Das to the prime minister.
Ahead of the ongoing elections, Roy had also levelled charges that the CM was involved in a mining scam. Das has denied the charges.
‘First generation politician, is self-made’
An old BJP hand with strong RSS links, Das hails from a very poor family. “He faced a lot of difficulties while growing up. He had to take tuitions to finance his studies,” said a BJP leader.
It was during his student days that Das got involved with the Jayaprakash Narayan movement and went to jail during Emergency.
After finishing his studies he worked briefly with Tata Steel. He joined the BJP in 1980 and held various organisational posts.
In 1995, he caught the eyes of former BJP general secretary K.N. Govindacharya with his organisational skills. An impressed Govindacharya handed him the party ticket from East Singhbhum (Jamshedpur East). Das has not lost from the seat since.
“He is self-made and a first-generation politician,” said Dinesh Kumar, BJP district president, Jamshedpur.
Arrogant CM who alienated his party workers
In Jharkhand, however, Das is not a popular figure.
His own party men accuse him of being “very rude”, “arrogant” and “high-handed.”
“He does not believe in taking along everybody. He routinely humiliates party workers. This has created a lot of discontent among party workers,” a BJP state unit leader said.
Political analysts say that to a large extent, it is BJP workers who are responsible for building the perception that the CM is arrogant and not connected to the common man. “They will sabotage him more,” a political analyst who did not want to be named said.
It is not that the national leadership is not aware of Das’ unpopularity. When campaigning for the Jharkhand election started in early November, BJP’s slogan was “Ghar Ghar Raghubar” and “Jharkhand pukara, Raghubar dobara.”
Within a fortnight, following feedback that Das’ unpopularity might mar BJP’s chances, all the hoardings were changed. The new hoardings had Modi and the various central government schemes as the main highlights.
“Jharkhand pukara Raghubar dobara has now become Jharkhand pukara BJP dobara,” said a party worker in Dhanbad.
Das also faces a lot of resentment from the tribal community following his government’s unsuccessful attempt to amend the tribal land laws.
“Tribals are angry with the BJP. They think the party wants to grab their land,” said professor B.K. Sinha, head of the political science department at Ranchi’s St. Xavier’s College.
Does not entertain party workers’ requests, is strict disciplinarian
Das’ colleagues who have known him since he joined politics defend him, saying that he has always been very strict. “It’s not that he has become arrogant after becoming CM. He is a disciplinarian, which at times does not go well with party workers,” said a senior BJP leader who has known him since his early days.
Citing an instance, the BJP leader said, “When he became the CM, he gave strict instructions to the police to not entertain any party worker who gets fined for not wearing a helmet or any other traffic violation.
“He does not like party workers thronging his residence with transfer or other similar requests,” the leader added. “This has antagonised many party workers. His official residence always sports a deserted look.”
A BJP district president, who did not want to be named, says Das has always led a simple life. “He does not have any particular hobbies. His only indulgence is street food, especially gol-gappa and aloo bonda,” a party leader said.
“He has two children, none of whom are in politics. His son works in one of the Tata companies in Jamshedpur. His daughter is married and lives in Chhattisgarh,” the district president said.