The NDA Has A Tribal Problem To Contend With In Jharkhand

Abhishek Kumar

Jun 06, 2024, 05:11 PM | Updated 08:51 PM IST

From left, Sita Soren, Geeta Kora, Arjun Munda and Jairam Mahato.
From left, Sita Soren, Geeta Kora, Arjun Munda and Jairam Mahato.
  • NDA's Jharkhand debacle reveals tribal backlash due to last-minute candidate changes, highlighting discontent and strategic voter consolidation.
  • Mirroring larger trends, the results of the 2024 general elections (GE) in Jharkhand have been shoddy for the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

    The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led alliance bagged nine seats, three fewer than its 2019 tally.

    Arjun Munda, its tallest leader in the state, also failed to secure a win from the Khunti (reserved for Scheduled Tribes) seat.

    Here are the major takeaways from the NDA debacle:

    Changing Candidates At The Last Moment Cost BJP Dearly

    In Dumka, the party fielded Sita Soren, the wife of Durga Soren, the elder brother of Hemant Soren. Sita won from the Jama assembly constituency (of Dumka) three times in 2009, 2014, and 2019. Dumka is the seat which was the bastion of Shibu Soren, patriarch of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), and Sita’s father-in-law.

    Sita joined BJP just before the elections, and the party gave her a ticket, ignoring Sunil Soren, who had beaten Shibu Soren in the 2019 GE. In fact, Sunil Soren had to withdraw his nomination to make way for Sita.

    On the other hand, JMM fielded its experienced warhorse Nalin Soren, who has been a member of the legislative assembly (MLA) from Sikaripara since its inception in 2005.

    The battle of Sorens was won by JMM.

    Similarly, in Singhbhum, another ST seat, BJP fielded Geeta Kora, wife of former chief minister Madhu Kora. Geeta had beaten BJP’s Laxman Giluwa in the 2019 election. Presumably to neutralise anti-incumbency against herself, she left Congress in February and joined BJP.

    Despite knowing that she is an ardent supporter of Sarna Code, a code designed to alienate tribals from Hindu society, BJP gave her a ticket. The party paid for it.

    In Lohardaga, BJP’s incumbent Member of Parliament (MP) Sudharshan Bhagat was replaced by Samir Oraon, national president of BJP ST Morcha.

    Though replacing Bhagat was a necessity due to anti-incumbency against him, Oraon was not a particularly popular candidate, and his election experience is also not something which can be spoken of in high regard.

    Eventually, the Congress’s Sukhdeo Bhagat, who had lost by barely 10,363 votes in the 2019 GE, benefited from it.

    On all aforementioned seats, the local cadre was not happy with the sudden change of guards, but the party ignored them.

    Tribal Backlash

    BJP lost all five tribal seats namely Rajmahal, Dumka, Singhbhumi, Khunti, and Lohardaga. This is the second consecutive election in which tribals, who constitute over one-fourth of Jharkhand's population, have expressed their anger against the party.

    Last time they did so in the 2019 assembly election when discontent against the then chief minister Raghubar Das (a non-tribal) caused BJP to lose the election.

    The party did try some course corrections after that. For instance, it merged Babulal Marandi’s Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) and made him president of the party's state unit.

    Additionally, Draupadi Murmu became India’s President. Besides that, Birsa Munda’s birthday was also declared as Janjatiya Gaurav Diwas.

    All of these and many more other initiatives were punctured by two issues.

    Firstly, tribals have been demanding a separate religious identity in the form of Sarna code. Former chief minister Raghubar Das had announced to recommend it to the Narendra Modi government in 2019. Despite that, no substantive move has been made till the time of writing.

    Secondly, Hemant Soren’s arrest on the charges of corruption did not bode well for the community. JMM and Congress pinned the blame on the BJP-led NDA and projected the Modi government as anti-tribal.

    While the law regards Hemant as a corruption-accused, for tribals he was seen as their son getting hauled by BJP.

    The sympathy wave turned the tide in the favour of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive (INDI) Alliance candidates.

    The INDI Alliance Factor

    A closer look at the numbers tells us that NDA not only lost but lost by big margins in Rajmahal, Singhbhumi, Khunti, and Lohardaga. While Rajmahal was already with JMM, BJP’s 2019 victories in other three seats were not a cakewalk. In fact, union minister Arjun Munda had won only by 1,445 votes in 2019.

    Clearly, the party was not liked too much even in 2019, but enough tribal voters choosing them had turned it into victory.

    Another factor is the consolidation of Muslims and tribal voters on all of these seats in favour of the INDI Alliance. While in 2019, Muslim votes were distributed between JMM, Congress, All India Trinamool Congress (AITC), and Communist Party of India (CPI), in 2024, they all came together.

    CPI and AITC did not field their candidates due to which Muslim votes got consolidated in INDI Alliance favour.

    On all the seats NDA lost, both communities combined together comprise above 50 per cent of votes — 65 per cent in Rajmahal, 78 per cent in Lohardaga, 67 per cent in Singhbhum, 58 per cent in Dumka, and 74 per cent in Khunti.

    Rise Of Jairam Mahto (Tiger Mahto)

    In Jharkhand, a young and firebrand leader has emerged as a challenge to BJP’s dominance.

    Jairam Mahto, also known as Tiger Mahato (for his daring acts like sleeping in cemeteries), launched a new party named Jharkhandi Bhasha Khatian Sangharsh Samiti (JBKSS).

    As the name suggests, Mahto’s party focuses on domicile, language, jobs, and exams. Regarding domicile, his demand is that people who came to Jharkhand before 1932 should be given first priority in government jobs, schemes, and contracts.

    In the GE 2024, Jairam fielded candidates from eight seats, all from independent quota. On three of these eight seats — Giridih, Ranchi, and Hazaribagh, Jairam’s candidate secured the third position with Jairam himself getting more than 3.47 lakh votes from Giridih. This is considered big for a party which is barely a year old.

    Support of youth towards JBKSS also increases threat perception for established parties.

    For BJP and its ally All Jharkhand Students Union Party (AJSUP), the threat is amplified. Jairam Mahato is a Kurmi, who comprise around 10 to 12 per cent of Jharkhand's population. Kurmis are traditionally inclined towards voting for BJP and AJSUP, whose chief Sudesh Mahato is also a Kurmi.

    As JBKSS is planning to contest on all 80 seats in the assembly elections, NDA needs to find a way to keep Kurmi votes intact.

    Abhishek is Staff Writer at Swarajya.

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