The BJP has set its sights on winning all 14 Lok Sabha seats, and also a majority of the 81 Assembly seats, in Jharkhand next year. The key to this strategy is to win the complete trust of the tribals who form over 26 per cent of the state’s population.
The appointment of Babulal Marandi (a tribal) as the state party president late last month and the removal of former chief minister Raghubar Das (a non-tribal) from state politics marked the first stage of implementation of the saffron party’s plan for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
The BJP is also reaching out to senior tribal leaders in other parties. Its efforts have met with success: Singhbhum Lok Sabha MP and one of the four working presidents of the state Congress unit, Geeta Koda, is now set to join the BJP.
Geeta Koda, wife of former chief minister Madhu Koda, is a two-time MLA from Jagannathpur Assembly seat (in 2009 and 2014) in West Singhbhum district and won the Singhbhum Lok Sabha seat in 2019 by defeating the BJP candidate with a margin of more than 72,000 votes.
Talks between BJP leaders and Geeta Koda are in the final stage and the Congress MP is expected to announce her resignation from her party soon. A number of other Congress functionaries from the state’s southeastern East and West Singhbhum districts bordering West Bengal and Odisha are also expected to join the BJP.
The BJP general secretary (organisation) in Jharkhand, Karamveer Singh, is said to be playing a key role in winning over key tribal leaders and functionaries from other parties.
Singhbhum is one of the two Lok Sabha seats from Jharkhand that the BJP could not win in 2019. The seat is a stronghold of the indigenous Ho tribe that Madhu and Geeta Koda belong to. The Ho tribe is also a politically influential tribe in Jharkhand.
Geeta Koda had defeated the BJP’s Laxman Giluwa in 2019. Giluwa, who was also the BJP state president, had won the Singhbhum Lok Sabha seat in 2014. His passing away due to Covid in April 2021 had left a void that the BJP was keen to fill up.
The BJP lost the Assembly elections in 2019--it could win only 25 of the 81 Assembly seats --to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) led coalition that includes the Congress and Rashtriya Janata Dal. The primary reason for its defeat was the precipitous erosion of its tribal support base.
The BJP, according to its state leaders, lost the support of the tribals primarily because it made a non-tribal (Raghubar Das) the chief minister of the state. Since it was carved out of Bihar in November 2000, all the Chief Ministers of Jharkhand (save for Das) have been tribals.
The BJP’s decision to contest the 2019 Assembly elections under the leadership of Das, whose chief ministership (from 2014 to 2019) was marked by many controversies, was considered its greatest folly.
The party, however, realised its mistake and one of the first amends it made was to woo back Babulal Marandi into the party fold. Marandi was with the BJP earlier and was the state’s first chief minister. But he developed differences with the party’s central leadership and resigned from the BJP in 2006 to float the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha.
Marandi, one of the front-ranking tribal leaders of the state, merged his party with the BJP in February 2020. The BJP then cast its net for other tribal leaders.
“Talks with Geeta Koda and some other Congress tribal leaders of Singhbhum have been going on for the past few months. Karamveer Singh was overseeing the negotiations. Geeta Koda has ultimately agreed to join our party,” said BJP MLA Koche Munda.
Munda represents the Topra constituency, which is one of the only two tribal seats (reserved for Scheduled Tribes) won by the BJP in the 2019 Assembly elections. There are 28 seats reserved for tribals in Jharkhand. Of the remaining 26 tribal seats, the JMM won 19 while the Congress bagged six and the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Babulal Maradni’s party) won one.
Geeta Koda’s departure from the Congress is imminent, admit even Congress leaders. “She has not attended any organisational meetings over the past couple of months. She even skipped a key meeting convened by the AICC General Secretary in-charge of Jharkhand, Avinash Pandey, recently without offering any explanation.
Geeta Koda’s resignation from the Congress will deal a blow to that party in Jharkhand. Not only is she a working president of the party in the state, she was a key figure overseeing the party organisation in the tribal areas of Jharkhand.
Munda (the BJP legislator) told Swarajya that a few more key tribal leaders from the Congress as well as the JMM will join the BJP over the next two months.
The BJP has also gained from the lone Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MLA, Kamlesh Kumar Singh, deciding to join the Ajit Pawar group of the party. Singh represents the Hussainabad Assembly constituency in Palamu district.
State BJP vice president Gangotri Kujur told Swarajya that Kamlesh Singh is eager to join the BJP. “Many other MLAs and functionaries from the JMM, Congress and even the RJD are keen on joining the BJP,” she said.
The reason for that, explained another state vice-president Nilkant Singh Munda, is that the JMM-led coalition government is facing acute anti-incumbency.
“The coalition government is neck-deep in corruption and has lost public support. It has nothing to show in terms of economic development and social progress, and even the Chief Minister is involved in scams. Everyone knows that the BJP will sweep the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections next year and are, thus, keen on joining our party,” said Munda.
The BJP is also concentrating on the Rajmahal Lok Sabha seat (covering the entire Sahibganj and Pakur districts in northeastern Jharkhand) that was won by the JMM’s Vijay Handsa in 2019 and also in 2014. Rajmahal is reserved for STs who constitute more than 35 per cent of the population of this Lok Sabha constituency.
The Singhbhum and Rajmahal Lok Sabha seats have been included in the BJP’s Lok Sabha Pravas Yojana--a pre-election campaign focusing on improving the party’s performance in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections in 160 constituencies where the party came a close second or third in the 2019 general elections.
The state BJP leadership feels that though only one of the six Assembly segments under the Rajmahal Lok Sabha constituency is held by the BJP, it has a good chance of winning a majority of other Assembly segments and also the Lok Sabha seat next year.
“If we can win the confidence of the tribals by fielding a prominent tribal face (in the Lok Sabha elections), it won’t be difficult to win this seat,” said a senior BJP leader.
This--winning back the support of the tribals--holds the key to the BJP returning to power in Jharkhand and achieving its aim of bagging all the 14 Lok Sabha seats from the state next year.
The BJP’s efforts towards this objective have met with considerable success recently. Geeta Koda’s entry into the party will mark an important milestone in this yojana (plan).
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