The Opposition alliance led by the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) has finally touched the finish line with a stellar performance by winning more seats than needed to secure a majority. The win strips the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of even the single-largest party tag and leaves no space for smaller parties, specifically Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik), or JVM, and All Jharkhand Students Union Party, to play king-makers.
The BJP’s loss can also be attributed to the coming together of the JMM, the Congress, and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and their success in tapping into the anti-government sentiment, connecting to local issues, along with the over-confidence and arrogance of chief minister Raghubar Das and the central BJP leadership.
One thing that we have to remember is that it was an Assembly election and not the Lok Sabha elections. We have seen that local issues become more important in Assembly elections. The work of the state government in five years comes into focus. The outgoing government did not do much in these five years. Whatever it did, it could not take to the people. Mostly what the government did was harping about the benefits of implementing central government schemes such as Ujjwala and Ayushman Bharat.
The state government did not have anything substantive to take to the people and it was harping on stability versus a coalition government. It highlighted emotive issues. In the 20 election rallies that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah held in Jharkhand, they talked about the central government’s achievements but not about the performance of the state government. They talked about how the state has got a stable government for the first time.
The message of the mandate was anti-incumbency. The anti-incumbency was against the leadership and the party at the local level. There has been a perception that the leadership is very arrogant, not only with ground-level party workers but also with the bureaucracy and the people. Opposition parties were successful in putting out an image of the chief minister as being anti-people and anti-tribal. People in Jharkhand swear by jal (water), jungle, and jameen (land) and this has been tampered with. This is a big reason for Das losing his seat.
Also, the BJP’s denial of tickets to 11 members of legislative assembly (MLAs) forced some of them to cross over to other parties. This appears to portray the BJP as being intolerant of National Democratic Alliance constituents in the state, including the AJSU Party. The BJP leadership thus does not seem to have learnt lessons from its past blunders of ignoring regional parties in its attempts to create a “Congress-free India".
On the other hand, the alliance led by Hemant Soren was successful not only in coming together but also in rallying the anger that people in general had against the government. They were more realistic and pragmatic in their approach. They were talking about issues that the people expected the government to address.
The biggest challenge for the alliance now will be to deal with the people’s issues that they raised in the elections. These were the issues that got them into power. The basic needs and issues of the people in the state need to be addressed. If they are successful, they will benefit from this.
Nationally, this electoral verdict in Jharkhand is most likely to prove a shot in the opposition’s arm ahead of forthcoming Assembly elections in Delhi and West Bengal. The result will be key in Bihar in particular where the ruling Janata Dal (United) will be able to bargain with its ally BJP from a position of advantage.
Birendra Kumar Sinha is a Jharkhand-based professor of political science and a psephologist.