With Hemant Soren Out Of Jail, BJP Will Need To Go Full Throttle To Repeat Its 2014 Success In Santhal Pargana

Abhishek Kumar

Jul 05, 2024, 05:43 PM | Updated 08:03 PM IST

Hemant Soren.
Hemant Soren.
  • Shivraj Singh Chouhan's experience of getting tribal votes in Madhya Pradesh will be crucial for the party.
  • Hemant Soren looks like a man in a hurry. Each of his post-jail public appearances seems to be an audition for the 2024 assembly election. His body language, fiery and pointed speeches targeting opposition — all point towards a strange sense of urgency.

    Soren began his unofficial election campaign on ‘Hul Diwas’ — dedicated to Santhal’s rebellion against Britishers. During his speech, Soren indirectly pointed towards the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies as feudal forces — something Santhals have strong reservations against.

    Soren chose Bhognadih of Sahibganj district to launch his campaign. Sahibganj is one of the six districts in the Santhal Pargana division of Jharkhand. The other five are — Godda, Jamtara, Deoghar, Dumka, and Pakur.

    The Pargana consists of 18 out of 81 seats in assembly elections. Having a hold on this Pargana means considerable influence over 22 per cent of the state's constituency as well as tribal votes. It explains why Shibu Soren, father of Hemant Soren and patriarch of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) is so influential in Jharkhand politics.

    By working in Santhal Pargana — more specifically, Dumka — senior Soren started to grab headlines. Later, he went to contest the Lok Sabha election from Dumka itself and represented it eight times. In 2019, he lost to Sunil Soren of the BJP.

    Despite a few losses, Soren’s appeal is widely acknowledged as more influential than that of the big national leaders in Santhal Pargana.

    While Soren focused his energy on lessening the impact of greedy moneylenders (feudal forces) on Santhalis, immigrant issues made wild card entry in the region.

    It all began after the decisive 1971 Bangladesh liberation war. Infiltrators entered India and settled in Malda, Murshidabad, and Dinajpur districts of Bengal. After saturation, they migrated towards Santhal Pargana due to its proximity to Bengal.

    Successive Bihar governments under Congress and later Lalu Yadav in fact encouraged it due to their vote-bank politics. Within a generation, they also wielded considerable political power, encouraging more of their type to settle on tribal lands.

    Muslims now comprise more than 27 per cent of the population in Pargana. In Sahibganj and Pakur districts, their share is close to 40 per cent. Phenomena like love jihad against tribal girls are also increasing.

    Despite these threats, the Sorens have not been very vocal against it. Even after Bihar was bifurcated to form Jharkhand, the issue never seemed urgent to JMM.

    On the contrary, the BJP has been raising the issue. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have raised this issue on multiple occasions. Even on the ground, BJP workers have been abridging people about this worrying trend for at least two decades.

    Cadre activeness, along with the Narendra Modi wave, resulted in the BJP bagging eight out of 18 seats in Pargana in the 2014 assembly election. However, after the victory, the party diverted a bit from the tribals' standpoint.

    It made Raghubar Das, a representative of Other Backward Class (OBC), the chief minister. The move created an internal division in tribal and non-tribal factions within the party. The JMM, Congress, and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) used this opportunity to present the BJP as anti-tribal.

    Despite Das focusing more on the development of Santhal Pargana, the BJP lost the perception battle and returned with only four out of 18 seats in the 2019 assembly election.

    The party had to rework its strategy. It appointed Babulal Marandi as its state unit chief. Apart from being a Santhal, Marandi is also believed to have a hold over Santhal Pargana. He even defeated Shibu Soren from the Duma seat in the 1990s. Marandi has become a face of the BJP's outreach to Santhal Pargana and is also a frequent visitor to the region.

    The BJP has also roped in Sita Soren, wife of the late Durga Soren and one of the daughters-in-law of Shibu Soren. Sita left JMM to join the BJP — a move so crucial for the BJP that it neglected incumbent Sunil Soren, the man who beat Shibu Soren in the 2019 election, to field her. However, local party cadres did not fully support the move, and Sita lost.

    Another BJP face, though non-tribal, in the region is senior leader Nishikant Dubey. Dubey is a member of Parliament from Godda. Despite not being a Santhal, Dubey wields considerable influence among voters due to his clean image and developmental work.

    The party gave him a ticket for the fourth consecutive time in 2024, an acknowledgement of his acceptance.

    He also takes a no-holds-barred approach when it comes to criticising the Hemant Soren government, especially on the welfare of Santhals.

    Hemant and his party JMM are aware of a possible change in tides due to their coalition compulsion — not doing anything about infiltrators. Possibly, that is why he wants to change the topic to injustice being done to a ‘son of tribal’.

    At the moment, the issue has gained traction among Santhals. Moreover, like Marandi and Dubey, Hemant also regularly camps in the region. He has also carved out a positive impact for himself by focusing on developing Santhal Pargana.

    The BJP will need to go all out if it wants to repeat its miracle of 2014. Shivraj Singh Chouhan's experience of getting tribal votes in Madhya Pradesh will be crucial for the party.

    Abhishek is Staff Writer at Swarajya.

    Get Swarajya in your inbox.