Gathbandhan, Internal Fights Likely to Jolt BJP in Jharkhand

Several dropped BJP MPs are rebelling, while the state government's policies have resulted in an anti-incumbency wave.

This election, the BJP is likely to suffer heavy losses in Jharkhand. In the 2014 elections, the party won 12 seats, while the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) got two; no other party could open its account in the state. This time, even BJP insiders feel it would be lucky to get seven seats.

One big reason for this is the popular anger against the party’s candidates. In the Palamu seat reserved for Scheduled Caste candidates, the BJP has fielded sitting MP Vishnu Dayal Ram, an ex-DGP who. Even party cadre in various places were critical of Ram. “He visited very few places and spoke to only a handful of people after winning,” complained a number of BJP activists in Garhwa region. Sources say some local leaders and MLAs are working against Ram and the party has been unable to stop them.

In Chatra, the BJP has fielded sitting MP Sunil Singh. This led to a rebellion in the local unit, even as party leaders accepted he did not work for his constituency. Some sources within the party, on condition of anonymity, alleged that Singh was selected because of the ‘Rajput lobby’ of the party. He also had the backing of Saudan Singh, Rashtriya Sah Sangathan Mantri or national number 2 of the BJP from the RSS. While Singh succeeded in getting the ticket, he has not been so lucky in receiving support from party members and activists.

In the Koderma seat, sitting MP Ravindra Ray has been dropped. Former RJD MLA Annapurna Devi, who lost the assembly election in 2014, has been chosen instead. This has not been received well by the party’s local leaders and cadres.

Also Read: In Jharkhand, the BJP Is Set to Lose Some Ground

In the prestigious Ranchi seat, the BJP has dropped sitting MP Ramtahal Chaudhary to give chance to Sanjay Seth. The former has refused to bow down and is contesting as an independent. Former Union minister Subodh Kant Sahay of the Congress is the Mahagathbandhan’s candidate and Chaudhary’s rebellion may cost the BJP.

In the Giridih seat, to avoid a tussle between MLA Dhullu Mahato and sitting MP Ravindra Pandey, the BJP alloted this it to alliance partner All Jharkhand Students’ Union (AJSU). It has fielded Chadra Prakash Chaudhary. Though things look comparatively normal from a distance, local journalist and political expert Dipak Sawal believes that both Mahato and Pandey are damaging Chaudhary’s prospects, as neither of them want any other candidate to succeed on this seat.

Finally, in the Rajmahal seat reserved for Scheduled Tribe candidates, BJP candidate Hemlal Murmu is an ex-JMM person. He is still associated with the JMM in remote Santhal villages. “Even if Santhal voters of the region want to vote for him, they will press the button of teer-dhanush (bow and arrow, JMM symbol),” said a group of BJP supporters in Litipara assembly segment.

BJP supporters in Jharkhand. Credit: dasraghubar/Twitter

BJP supporters in Jharkhand. Credit: dasraghubar/Twitter

Mahagathbandhan effect

While the BJP is facing issues, the scenario is different for the gathbandhan camp. The alliance is comprised of the Congress, the JMM, ex CM Babulal Marandi’s Jharkhand Vikas Morcha Pragatisheel (JVMP), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). The Congress is contesting seven seats, the JVMP two, the JMM four and RJD one.

The agreement is not working only in one seat, Chatra, as the RJD has also fielded it’s candidate Subhash Yadav against Manoj Yadav of the Congress, the Mahagthbandhan’s official candidate. In all other seats, the partners are respecting the seat sharing formula.

There was a hiccup when Furqan Ansari of the Congress, the tallest Muslim leader of the state decided to contest as an independent when the Godda seat went to the JVM’s Pradeep Yadav. He polled 3.19 lakh votes in the 2014 Lok Sabha election from this seat. Both the Congress and the JMM rushed to convince him to not file nomination papers, managing to control the damage.

Even in the Dhanbad seat, where Kirti Azad of the Congress faced some opposition for being an outsider, the anger has subsided. The only seat where there is anger against the candidate is Rajmahal, against the JMM’s sitting MP Vijay Kumar Hansdak. 

JMM MLA and spokesperson Kunal Sarangi says that the alliance partners are confident of transferring their respective votes. Across the state, a majority of the respondents supporting different Mahagathbadhan parties also agreed, giving credence to Sarangi’s claims.

Also Read: As Ranchi Goes to Polls, Slum Dwellers Struggle for Food Security

Among a majority of tribal and Muslim voters, the Mahagathbandhan was the first choice. Only Arjun Munda, who has a lead even among the Munda tribal voters of Khunti Lok Sabha seat, appeared to be an exception to this norm. The possible transfer of votes was also visible in Koderma, where the CPI(ML)’s MLA and Lok Sabha candidate Rajkumar Yadav, appears to be losing momentum. Yadav was the runner up in the past two Lok Sabha elections, but Muslim voters, who solidly backed him previously, have shifted decisively in favour of the Mahagathbandhan’s Babulal Marandi. However, recent reports of RJD’s Chatra candidate Subhash Yadav supporting the CPI(ML) leader may bring him back into the contest.

Anti-incumbency, land rights, jobs and other issues

In Jharkhand, assembly elections occur several months after the Lok Sabha elections. The BJP won 37 out of the 81 seats in the state, forming a government with alliance partner AJSU, which won five seats.

Raghubar Das, an OBC, became the CM, the first non-Adivasi to do so. Over the past five years, the Raghubar Das government has faced heat from the opposition for failing to deliver on a number of promises like proper electricity supply and jobs.

The government’s attempts to amend the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act – legislated under the British to protect land rights of tribals – to make land available for industrial purposes witnessed extreme opposition from tribal organisations and opposition.

“Even after it was passed under protective cover of marshals in the house, it was turned down by the governor, as she thought it was anti-tribal,” claims Kunal Sarangi.

“The amendment made it clear to most people that this government is against the interests of tribals,” says Ranchi-based anti-mining activist Xavier Dias. Further, shutting of some government-run schools led to loss of jobs. This triggered a movement, as reports of suicides by some shiksha mitras cropped up in the news.

“Due to all these reasons, there is a strong anti-incumbency wave against the Raghubar government. The next assembly election may throw up a new government. Everybody is busy to adapt to this possible change of power in the state. This is why even a section of upper castes and business people are supporting the Mahagathbandhan,” summed up a senior RSS functionary, on the condition of anonymity.

Raghubar Das. Credit: PTI

Seat to seat scenario

Three seats of Palamu region – Chatra, Palamu and Lohardaga, voted during the fourth phase. The BJP, which won all of these seats, is struggling to retain even one. In Ranchi and Koderma, infighting may damage it. The party appears to be strong in Hazaribagh and a slender lead in Khunti and Jamshedpur seats.

In the three seats of Santhal Pargana, while JMM candidates seem to be ahead in Dumka (where Shibu Soren is again the party’s candidate) and Rajmahal seats, the Godda seat is witnessing a tight contest between sitting MP Nishikant Dubey and the JVMP’s Pradeep Yadav.

In Koderma, the Gathbandhan candidate and JVM supremo Babulal Marandi seems to have a lead, while in Kolhan’s Singhbhum, Congress candidate Geeta Koda (wife of ex CM Madhu Koda) seems better placed in a close contest against the BJP state president and sitting MP Laxman Gilua. In Dhanbad and Giridih, both the Gathbandhan and the NDA are locked in a close contest.

While the JMM’s Kunal Sarangi claims that the grand alliance will win 13 seats in the state, BJP insiders say the NDA will be able to retain at least seven. Even by that count, it is likely to lose five seats in Jharkhand, which is not negligible in the present election, where every seat counts.

Rajan Pandey is a freelance journalist and co-author of Battleground UP: Politics in the Land of Ram.