BJP Staring At Tough Challenge In Jharkhand, May Need Support Of Angry Allies To Form Government

BJP Staring At Tough Challenge In Jharkhand, May Need Support Of Angry Allies To Form GovernmentBJP president Amit Shah and Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das. (Diwakar Prasad/Hindustan Times via GettyImages)
Snapshot
  • The debacle for the BJP in Maharashtra has undeniably added wind to the opposition’s sail, and could guide the actions of the smaller parties in the likely event of the polls throwing up a fractured verdict.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is faced with a tough challenge in Jharkhand, which goes to the polls in five phases commencing Saturday (30 November). Though it is likely to emerge as the single largest party, it could fall well short of the majority mark of 41 in the 81-member state assembly.

Opinion polls suggest that the tally of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM)-led alliance comprising the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) is most likely to be slightly lower than the BJP’s. The saffron party, which provided the first stable government in the state’s politically tumultuous 19-year-old history from 2014 to this year, will then need the help of its allies.

It is here that the BJP’s political management and negotiation skills will become crucial. Its allies, prime among them being the All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU), are unhappy and are contesting the forthcoming elections independently.

The AJSU, which has been a pre-poll ally of the BJP in 2014, had won five seats in the last elections. It had demanded 18 seats this time, most of them from the 25 Scheduled Tribe (ST) dominated constituencies that the opposition Jharkhand Mukti Morcha had won.

But the BJP had offered its ally only 11 seats. A miffed AJSU is now contesting from 27 seats on its own and will scupper the BJP’s prospects in many of these constituencies.

The Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), a constituent of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the national level, is also contesting in 50 seats on its own. The party had asked the BJP for six seats in which the BJP had fared very poorly in 2014 assembly polls. The BJP refused to concede any seats. Though the LJP does not have much of a presence in Jharkhand, it can act as a spoiler for the BJP in many seats.

The Janata Dal (United), another NDA constituent, has fielded candidates from 25 constituencies. Significantly, it is supporting rebel BJP candidate Saryu Rai (read this) who is contesting against BJP Chief Minister Raghubar Das from Jamshedpur East seat.

In the likely event of the BJP falling short of the majority mark, the party will need the help of the AJSU, as well as the LJP and JD(U) — provided the latter two win any seats — to cobble together a majority.

BJP president Amit Shah is confident that the AJSU will return as an ally after the polls and will become part of the BJP-led government in Jharkhand. But the signals from the AJSU are not too encouraging and the party is hinting that the break with the BJP is permanent.

The JMM-led combine is also likely to actively woo the AJSU after the polls. Significantly, AJSU leaders and candidates had targeted the BJP in their poll campaigns, but were silent on the JMM, Congress, RJD and other parties.

The break with the AJSU may cost the BJP the votes of Krumis and Mahatos. The adivasi (ST) vote was divided almost equally between the BJP (30 per cent) and JMM (29 per cent) in 2014. But the BJP’s nomination of Raghubar Das (a Rajput) as Chief Minister and his projection as the CM face this time may alienate many tribal voters.

Other Backward Classes (OBCs) had also voted in large numbers for the BJP in 2014. But with the LJP and the JD(U) also in the fray and targeting the BJP in their campaigns, a significant share of OBC votes may go to these two parties.

The good news for the BJP is the entry of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) in the fray. The AIMIM is contesting in 20 seats and will split the votes of Muslims, who form 15 per cent of the electorate.

The Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) or JVM(P) could emerge as the kingmaker this time. The party, formed by BJP veteran Babulal Marandi in 2006 after he quit the saffron party since he felt he was being sidelined, fought the 2009 assembly elections in alliance with the Congress and won 11 seats.

The JVM(P) won eight seats in the 2014 state polls, but the BJP engineered a split and six of its MLAs joined the BJP in early 2015. That has made Marandi an implacable foe of the BJP and though his party is contesting independently this time, it would be very difficult for the BJP to win his support after the polls.

Add to this the anti-incumbency that the BJP faces. The BJP, in its poll campaign, focused on issues on national security and Ayodhya. And also on the fact that for the first time in Jharkhand’s history, it was able to provide a stable government that lasted its full term.

But the opposition had focused on local issues and on alleged corruption by the Raghubar Das government. The JMM and the Congress has also announced a slew of sops that could bleed the state, but win over fickle voters.

The debacle for the BJP in Maharashtra has undeniably added wind to the opposition’s sail, and could guide the actions of the smaller parties in the likely event of the polls throwing up a fractured verdict.

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