The return of Babulal Marandi to the saffron fold will lead to an exciting churn in Jharkhand’s political landscape.
Marandi had left the BJP and formed the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) in September 2006 after he felt he was being sidelined in the party.
Marandi announced on Tuesday that he would merge his party with the BJP at a mega rally at Prabhat Tara Maidan in state capital Ranchi on 17 February. Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP national president J P Nadda shall be present at the merger ceremony.
Marandi, who has close links with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), will be the face of the BJP in Jharkhand. He is likely to be elected as the leader of the BJP legislature party.
That in itself is a major course-correction by the BJP in Jharkhand. One of the major reasons for the electoral debacle suffered by the saffron party in last December’s assembly polls was the party’s decision to persist with the non-tribal Raghubar Das as its chief ministerial candidate.
Das was installed as the chief minister of Jharkhand by the party central leadership after the party won the 2014 assembly polls. His anti-tribal rants, short temper and misbehaviour with party leaders cost the party dearly in the polls last year.
The BJP could win only two of the 28 seats reserved for tribals. Das was the only non-tribal chief minister of Jharkhand, a state that was carved out of Bihar for tribals. His non-tribal status and roots in neighbouring Chhattisgarh became a major election issue.
The BJP central leadership realised its mistake immediately after the assembly elections and started working on Marandi. Anticipating Marandi’s return to the saffron fold, the post of BJP legislature party leader was kept vacant.
But Marandi had, immediately after the results of the assembly polls were declared, announced his unconditional support to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM)-led alliance comprising the Congress and Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) that won 47 of the 81 assembly seats.
Marandi’s JVM(P) won three seats, while the BJP won 25 seats. But relations between Marandi and the ruling alliance soured within a month after Congress started wooing two JVM(P) MLAs — Bandhu Tirkey and Pradip Yadav.
The two MLAs met Congress chief Sonia Gandhi in Delhi, leading to Marandi withdrawing support to the JMM-led government headed by Hemant Soren last month-end.
According to senior BJP leaders, efforts are also on to get back veteran saffron leader Saryu Rai, who left the BJP over sharp differences with then chief minister Raghubar Das and contested the last assembly polls as an Independent.
Rai, who also has very close links with the RSS spanning decades, won the Jamshedpur East Assembly seat against Das. Roy met RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in the last week of January and the meeting lasted over three hours.
Rai is a widely-respected politician with a clean image. He is seen as an anti-corruption crusader and was largely responsible for exposing the fodder scam that resulted in Lalu Yadav’s conviction and incarceration.
Rai’s possible return to the BJP will give the saffron party a much-needed moral shot in the arm, while Marandi’s return will win back the support of the tribals for the BJP.
Senior BJP leaders say that Marandi, who had a series of meetings with senior RSS leaders over the past couple of weeks, has been given a free hand by the BJP central leadership to explore the possibility of weaning away disgruntled JMM and Congress MLAs.
Many in the JMM are upset over the Congress trying to wrest important portfolios. The Congress with 16 MLAs has four ministerial berths while the JMM with 30 MLAs has six ministers (including Chief Minister Hemant Soren).
The lone RJD MLA is also a minister. Jharkhand can have a maximum of 12 ministers (including the Chief Minister) and there is room for inducting just one more minister. The four Congress ministers have, between themselves, nine departments while the JMM has 25 departments and the RJD minister just one.
The Congress leadership has been pressurising Chief Minister Hemant Soren to part with some important departments in the JMM’s kitty. Hemant Soren had to go to Delhi six times in a span of five weeks since he became the Chief Minister to meet Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.
Many in the JMM are unhappy over this muscle-flexing by a junior partner of the ruling alliance and resent the way Hemant Soren is being treated by the Congress central leadership.
“He (Hemant Soren) sacrificed his self-respect and that of the party by responding to summons by the Congress high command. Who is Sonia Gandhi to summon our party president? The Congress is a junior partner in the alliance and should behave accordingly,” said a JMM minister.
JMM leaders are also upset over the Congress poaching two JVM (P) legislators.
“The Congress did that very surreptitiously to increase its strength by very foul means. With 18 MLAs now, it will demand one more berth in the council (of ministers) and will step up its demand for important departments for its ministers,” said the JMM minister.
Senior JMM leaders told Swarajya that the party (JMM) and BJP were alliance partners until 2012, but the BJP central leadership had never treated the JMM leadership in such an insulting manner as the Congress leadership is doing now.
They said that if matters come to a head, the party could be forced to have a rethink on its alliance with the Congress. “Nothing is permanent in politics and if the Congress persists with this sort of behaviour and pressure tactics, our ties could reach a breaking point,” said the minister.
Some Congress MLAs are also extremely unhappy over not getting ministerial berths. That is why the Congress central leadership is trying hard to get more of its MLAs into the council of ministers. The party leadership is aware of this acute resentment amongst its legislators in Jharkhand and fears that if not placated, these disgruntled MLAs could break away.
There’s more good news for the BJP in Jharkhand. The All Jharkhand Students’ Union (AJSU), which was an ally of the BJP till it broke away before the last elections, has reportedly sent feelers to the BJP. The AJSU parted ways after the BJP refused to give it the 18 seats it was asking for.
Contesting alone, the AJSU won only two seats, but garnered a 8.10 per cent vote share while the BJP’s vote share stood at 33.37 per cent. Had the two contested together as allies, the combined vote share would have been much more than the JMM-led alliance’s 35.35 per cent.
AJSU candidates cut into the BJP’s votes in many constituencies. The Other Backward Classes (OBCs), who largely owe allegiance to the AJSU since the party leader Sudesh Mahato is a kurmi (OBC), did not vote for the BJP in the last elections.
The return of both Babulal Marandi and Saryu Rai to the saffron fold will, thus, lead to an exciting churn in Jharkhand’s political landscape. Along with the AJSU’s two MLAs, the BJP’s strength in the assembly will then go up to 29.
Marandi, who has been assured of the post of BJP legislature party leader, will then need the support of just 11 more legislators to form the government.
Marandi’s return to the BJP will also have a positive impact for the saffron party in the tribal areas of the neighbouring states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh which have substantial tribal population.