Jharkhand: Hemant Soren May Have Won A Trust Vote, But His Woes Are Just Starting

by Venu Gopal Narayanan - Sep 7, 2022 03:05 PM +05:30 IST
Jharkhand: Hemant Soren May Have Won A Trust Vote, But His Woes Are Just StartingJharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren.
Snapshot
  • With multiple challenges staring at Hemant Soren, including a re-energised BJP, his political plight is set to get progressively worse.

Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren is an embattled man, and pressure on him has been increasing for some months now.

He could be disqualified by the Election Commission of India for alleged involvement in a mining scam.

If that happens, he will be barred from contesting elections for some years. That in turn will create a leadership vacuum in his party, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), and in the coalition he leads.

But before that, there was an outbreak of communal tension in the state’s capital, Ranchi, in June, when Muslim mobs went on a rampage and pelted stones at a Hanuman temple.

Soren’s kid-gloves approach to the incident evoked loud protests of partisanship and minority appeasement.

It did the atmosphere no good when Asaduddin Owaisi of All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) arrived in the state shortly thereafter, to campaign provocatively for a rebel candidate formerly with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in assembly byelections to Mandar seat (he lost; the daughter of a local Congress heavyweight won).

This was aggravated on 10 August, when a widow in a Hindu-minority village in Hazaribagh district was forced to apologise by the local Congress MLA, for her teen daughter’s Facebook post, and humiliatingly tie rakhis to placate an angry mob.

Then, on 23 August, a schoolgirl died in Dumka after being set ablaze by her spurned Muslim suitor.

On 2 September, a pregnant minor tribal girl was found hanging dead on a tree in Dumka district. She was raped and then murdered.

Soren’s response was shockingly apathetic, unacceptably heartless, and one which he will never be able to live down: “Incidents keep happening”.

Soren’s rag-tag coalition, mainly made up of the JMM and Congress, finally began to feel the strain, for which both parties had to resort to, well, resort politics, in order to keep their flock intact.

It seems to have worked, for now, but winter is coming.

Pushed to the wall, Soren held a trust vote in a special session on 5 September, which he won 48-0 in a house of 81 (the BJP and its allies boycotted the vote).

Soren was three votes short because three Congress MLAs are under arrest in West Bengal, after they were caught with large bundles of cash in Howrah on 30 July.

This is the mess Soren is presently in, and his political plight is set to get progressively worse. The reasons are interesting, and run quite contrary to popular belief.

He got to become Chief Minister in 2019 less because his coalition won, and more because the BJP’s coalition came apart at the seams.

Indeed, the more we look at the electoral data and the ongoing political developments in the state, the clearer it becomes that the BJP, under Raghubar Das, failed to retain the popular mandate because of internal problems, rather than anti-incumbency.

And as on date, most of those problems appear to have been resolved by the BJP, which means that the mandate is set to swing back to it in the next elections.

Soren knows this, and hence his desperation to somehow prevent his disqualification, the splintering of his coalition, and the calling of fresh elections.

Here’s the proof:

In 2014, the BJP won 35 seats in alliance with the All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU), which won five.

This was in the face of a debilitating revolt by their former chief minister, Babulal Marandi.

Soren’s JMM and the Congress were not allied at that time, and contested separately.

The situation in 2019 was quite different. The JMM and the Congress were allied (plus the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Maoists in a few seats).

The AJSU broke off from the BJP, and Marandi was still in full revolt mode, so all three contested on their own.

Soren and his partners won 49 seats in a house of 81, and formed the government. The BJP won only 25 — 10 down from 2014.

Table 1: Assembly election results 2009-2014
Table 1: Assembly election results 2009-2014

This is where our analysis begins.

First, although the BJP lost 10 seats, its vote share went up by over 2 per cent. This swing means that the party is still growing in Jharkhand.

Second, although the Congress managed to stem its serial decline in the state by entering into an alliance with Soren’s JMM, it failed to effect efficient vote transfers.

Third, this inefficient vote transfer is because the JMM’s popularity is actually restricted to just the south and east of the state.

This is clear when we look at the JMM’s vote share map of 2014 (not 2019), when it contested the assembly elections alone.

JMM vote share 2014 assembly elections.
JMM vote share 2014 assembly elections.

Fourth, the ‘Others’, the largest segment in Jharkhand, suffered a drop of 4 per cent. This followed on the back of a 10 per cent decline it experienced in 2014.

This means that the ‘Others’ is steadily shrinking, with the larger chunk of those votes going to the BJP.

Fifth, although Marandi’s rebellion, and the breakdown of its coalition, did hurt the BJP, an intriguing fact emerges when we theoretically reconstruct coalition vote shares for the past three elections (meaning, what would have been the combined vote shares if the two coalitions had been intact?)

We see that the JMM coalition’s vote share (called ‘UPA’ in the table below) has, in fact, been declining since 2009.

At the same time, the BJP coalition’s vote share (called ‘NDA’ in the table below) has risen strongly to touch 47 per cent in 2019.

Table 2: Theoretical reconstruction of coalition vote shares
Table 2: Theoretical reconstruction of coalition vote shares

The implications are startling. If the BJP, Marandi, and the AJSU had been united in 2019, their coalition would have trumped Soren’s by 10 per cent of the popular vote.

In seats, that means the ‘NDA’ would have won 51 and the ‘UPA’ just 30.

The ‘Others’ would have been wiped out, since their combined vote share has, in fact, dropped to an historical low of 15 per cent.

Analysts should consider these data points before they hastily dump the blame of the BJP’s 2019 defeat on Raghubar Das. Also, Jharkhand is becoming an increasingly bipolar contest.

Sixth, the situation on the ground in Jharkhand today, is that the AJSU is re-allied with the BJP, and Babulal Marandi has re-joined the BJP. If assembly elections are held now, the BJP and its ally will sweep the state.

This is the stark electoral reality of Jharkhand which is staring an already-beleaguered Soren in the face.

No wonder Soren was desperate enough to conduct a trust vote even as the state’s Governor contemplates the Election Commission’s recommendation to disqualify him.

Under these circumstances, he simply cannot afford an election, or a power vacuum, which means that he will try to cling on to his chair any which way he can.

And, seventh, is the most painful statistic of all for Soren.

In 2019, the BJP’s average vote share went down by 12 per cent in 30 of the 56 seats it lost.

Many of these votes went to rebels like Marandi, and former allies (though, remarkably, it gained 6 per cent in the balance 26 seats!)

But in 13 of these 30 seats, Soren’s coalition lost a full 10 per cent vote share to ‘Others’. That is a crippling blow which was masked only because the BJP was in abject disarray then.

In conclusion, any way you look at it, be it a spurt in crimes against women, a surge in communal violence, his callous attitude to a worsening law and order situation in the state, a high probability that his coalition could be hit by defections, the humiliating risk of disqualification, or, the truly serious electoral threat a re-energised BJP now poses, Hemant Soren’s political woes are just beginning.

All data from Election Commission of India website.

Venu Gopal Narayanan is an independent upstream petroleum consultant who focuses on energy, geopolitics, current affairs and electoral arithmetic. He tweets at @ideorogue.
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