Interview | Raising Ayodhya, Kashmir Won't Work in Jharkhand Elections: Babulal Marandi

Jharkhand's first chief minister talks about the ongoing elections in the state, coalition blues, the possible scenarios and more.

Babulal Marandi, the first chief minister of Jharkhand, separated from the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2006 to form the Jharkhand Vikash Morcha (JVM) after the party forced him to resign from his post. Though he never returned to power after 2003, several MLAs from his party have been voted to power, only to defect and support several successive chief ministers from other parties.

The Wire spoke to Marandi about the ongoing elections in the state, coalition blues, the possible scenarios and more.

What are the poll issues in Jharkhand this time?

Certainly not Kashmir. Not a temple in Ayodhya. And not Pakistan. The poll issues in this assembly election are how farmers will get water for their farm land; how the unemployed youth will get employment.

During the last five years, the Jharkhand Public Service Commission has been able to conduct examinations only five times. We need to conduct civil services examinations every year and fill the vacancies in different departments of the state government.

A large number of schools have been merged or shut down. We need to revamp the public education system. Total collapse of public education threatens to leave a vast multitude of rural and urban children of Jharkhand uneducated. For generations, this will have a very disastrous impact for a large number of people. People like us in politics cannot be forgiven by our future generations if we do not correct the public education system.

What is your party promising voters?

Our party is telling voters that if we come to power, we will ensure water for farm land; strengthen the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and provide jobs to villagers for at least 150 days instead of the stipulated 100 days, because unemployment is too high; we will give Rs 300 per day as the minimum wage which today is a meagre Rs 171; we will hold civil services examinations every year; we will revamp the public school system which is in a dire condition today; we will provide scholarships to talented poor students qualifying for admissions into medical and government engineering colleges; we will set up small power plants near coal pits to produce 100-150 MW power which will require only about 100 acres of land instead of thousands of acres of land that cause massive displacement and requires huge investment; we will open nursing schools at Sadar Hospital level and train 10,000 rural women as nurses in the next five years.

The BJP has been talking Kashmir, a temple in Ayodhya and Pakistan in its election campaigns. How do you perceive this?

Everyone knew that Kashmir was an essential part of India. Kashmir is just like Chhota Nagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act and Santhal Pargana Tenancy (SPT) Act. These Acts have been there for decades, but people in other parts of India come to know whenever something happens or some changes are brought to these Acts. The same thing happened when the BJP amended Article 370. It came in the news, and some people thought that BJP made Kashmir a part of India. In fact, Kashmir had always been an essential and integral part of India.

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As for a temple in Ayodhya, it is an issue in Ayodhya and BJP has converted it into a national issue. Jharkhandis simply cannot relate to temple-talk by the BJP because they want serious issues like employment, education, agriculture, health, poverty and hunger to be addressed by politics. The BJP leadership is also speaking of a National Register of Citizens. Let them first tell the people what they did in the last five years.

Is the Maharashtra episode impacting the Jharkhand assembly elections?

The Maharashtra episode has exposed BJP’s greed for power. But it isn’t really impacting the Jharkhand assembly election because of the fact that the situation in Jharkhand is different.

Besides, episodes like Maharashtra happen in politics every now and then, and the people of India are used to it. Take for example the BJP forming government with the People’s Democratic Party in Kashmir. There have been instances in history when the Hindu Mahasabha, the fore-runner of BJP, joined hand with Muslim League for power. Shiv Sena is a pro-Hindutva party and Congress-NCP are pro-secular.

You had been an ardent advocate of a coalition in Jharkhand, and you played an important role in the coalition between Congress, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and your own party for the recent Lok Sabha elections. Why did you opt out of the coalition for the assembly elections?

There is a reason for my opting out of the coalition. In 2009 too, I fought the election in a coalition when the Congress delayed too much. We were given 20 seats to contest and we won 11. In 2014 too, the Congress delayed too much to form and give final shape to coalition seat-sharing. We were given 28 seats and we got just eight.

I had been ardently advocating for a timely coalition for the Jharkhand assembly elections, but the Congress was too busy with its internal problems and had no time to think about elections strategies. For three months – May, June and July – I tried my best to get parties come to the negotiating table and finalise seat-sharing. Nothing happened.

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We felt that undue delays in taking a final decision will hurt the interests of my party, and hence in August decided to go alone. When they approached us at the last moment, we had already decided on candidates. There was no chance of our going back from this point. We communicated to the Congress that we were going ahead alone.

One thing I have learnt is that the Congress makes undue delays in finalising coalitions, and this negatively affects smaller parties like us. We are now fighting in all 81 seats and also doing well.

People call JVM an MLA-producing factory, wherein the MLAs later flee the party and join the BJP…

(Cuts in) This time I have told the voters that they should give us good numbers so that no MLA will need to go to other political parties to form the government. We would be able to form the government. I never believed in unethical practice in politics, and hence I have to face the problem of my MLAs moving out of the party to support the party that forms the government. So I am telling people to give my party enough MLAs so that I can stick to my value-based politics.

What is the solution to volatile issues like the Pathalgadi agitation?

We should talk to the people. Political parties should talk to the people. The government should talk to the people. This situation has arisen because of the failure of the governance and the system – irrespective of which party formed the government – to address the problems of the people.

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If the people write something constitutionally wrong on the stone slabs (during the Pathalgadi movement), it is our duty to correct them. If they are writing on the stone slabs that they are the owners of jal, jungle, jamin, we should give them the ownership. When you give their lands to big corporate houses, they react in this way.

That is why I am advocating for a ‘land lease’ system. Ownership of land should not be snatched away from the land holders while setting up industries and such institutions. They should be given partnership in the ventures, so that they too have the potential to grow.

Which way do you see the results going – the BJP or the Congress-JMM-RJD coalition?

The results will be unprecedented. The BJP is not getting a majority. The coalition is not getting a majority either. The JVM is getting a comfortable number of seats. We will be forming the government.

Will you become the chief minister?

(Smiles) We are forming the government.