Union Home Minister and BJP National President Amit Shah speaks at a Jharkhand election rally in Baharagora on Monday. BJP faces a tough fight in Jharkhand. At stake is its national footprint and ambitions to dominate the Rajya Sabha (Photo: ANI)
Union Home Minister and BJP National President Amit Shah speaks at a Jharkhand election rally in Baharagora on Monday. BJP faces a tough fight in Jharkhand. At stake is its national footprint and ambitions to dominate the Rajya Sabha (Photo: ANI)

The BJP's hurdles in Jharkhand

The ongoing economic slowdown, caste arithmetic and alliance politics are all potential roadblocks for the ruling party’s return to power in the state

Mumbai/New Delhi: A big factor behind the BJP’s struggles in Maharashtra was the party’s inability to translate its national popularity into state-level votes. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the distress-hit region of Vidarbha, home to a large section of the state’s tribal population. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP secured 49% of the vote-share in Vidarbha (from the seats they contested) but could only manage 40% in the subsequent state elections. As Jharkhand, another state with significant poor and tribal population, heads to the polls, the BJP could face another struggle to win votes.

Jharkhand is one of India’s poorest states, and the ongoing slowdown has likely hit the state harder than the rest of the country. According to data from the multidimensional poverty index, a composite measure of poverty prepared by researchers at the University of Oxford, Jharkhand was India’s second-poorest state in 2015-16 (with 46% of the state living in poverty compared to 28% at the national level).

Jharkhand is one of India’s poorest states.
Jharkhand is one of India’s poorest states.

Data from the latest National Statistical Office’s (NSO’s) consumption survey report, which the government has attempted to junk, suggests that the consumption slowdown in Jharkhand has been more severe than in other states. Similarly, unemployment in Jharkhand, and especially rural unemployment, is significantly higher than national levels, NSO data shows.

One reason for Jharkhand’s high unemployment is the deterioration in the state’s industrial and services output as a share of Indian output. Both sectors’ shares have fallen in recent years with a particularly sharp drop in the mining and quarrying sector, the state’s major industry.

When the BJP-led government came into power in 2014, it promised to create jobs by attracting more investment into Jharkhand -- but this hasn’t happened. Private investment has steadily declined over the last five years as stalling rates on projects have risen dramatically. In 2018-19, 44% of all investment projects in Jharkhand were stalled, the highest rate in India, according to the project-tracking database of the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE).

Of these stalled projects, 28% are stalled due to lack of promoter interest and 16% due to land acquisition issues. The issue of land acquisition, especially around forest land, has been a long-standing source of conflict in the state. In 2016, the state government attempted to amend the state’s tenancy acts and, in 2017, diluted provisions of the land acquisition act. These changes made land acquisition easier but were met with widespread protests, especially in the regions with greater forests and tribal presence,such as the areas of Santhal Paragana and Chotangapur in South Jharkhand.

Glitches in key welfare schemes have added to the resentment. The mandatory shift to Aadhaar to avail subsidized food through the Public Distribution System (PDS) has been blamed for causing hunger deaths. According to one study, 53% of beneficiaries preferred the pre-Aadhaar system in the state PDS .

This could explain why Jharkhand’s voters are less satisfied with the state government than with the national government. According to data from Lokniti-Center for the Study of Developing Societies (Lokniti-CSDS), only 23% of Jharkhand voters expressed dissatisfaction with the centre while 37% were dissatisfied with the state government.


Another crucial factor will be caste politics. With 28 of the state’s 81-assembly reserved for STs, political success in Jharkhand hinges on support from ST voters. In the previous state elections, the BJP along with its ally, AJSU, was able to secure 30% of the ST vote and 13 ST constituencies.


With the split in the alliance, a repeat of that performance may be challenging. The BJP has been effective in mobilising the non-tribal vote in the state. With a non-tribal chief minister, Raghubar Das, the BJP has disrupted the political template in a state that was carved out of Bihar in 2000, primarily to address tribal grievances. This has helped BJP transcend traditional caste divides and secure broad-based support including from the state’s other backward classes (OBCs), to which Das belongs. While STs form 30% of the state population, OBCs account for 35%, according to data from the 2015-16 National Family Health Survey.

This has helped BJP transcend traditional caste divides and secure broad-based support including from the state’s other backward classes (OBCs), to which Das belongs.
This has helped BJP transcend traditional caste divides and secure broad-based support including from the state’s other backward classes (OBCs), to which Das belongs.

OBCs hold the edge in 47 constituencies of the state. Das’ elevation has made OBC support a critical factor in Jharkhand politics. Ahead of these elections, all opposition parties have sought to woo OBCs by promising greater reservation for OBCs. The Congress, for instance, has promised to nearly double OBC quotas to 27% from 14%.

A final factor could be basic electoral math. Historically, Jharkhand’s politics has always involved shifting alliances among different parties but this churn is now intensifying. JMM and Congress are now allies while the BJP and AJSU, successful allies in 2014 and in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections have yet to formalise an alliance.


The BJP’s prospects have also been hit by internal strife. The party’s chief whip, Radha Krishna Kishore, defected to AJSU and former minister Saryu Rai is contesting as an independent.

The BJP certainly faces a tough fight in Jharkhand. At stake is the party’s national footprint and its ambitions to dominate Rajya Sabha.

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