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Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren meets general pubic at his residence in Ranchi. The Indian voter has distinct preferences for state and national elections, and the Jharkhand verdict fits in with the trend (Photo: PTI)
Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren meets general pubic at his residence in Ranchi. The Indian voter has distinct preferences for state and national elections, and the Jharkhand verdict fits in with the trend (Photo: PTI)

What led to BJP’s loss in Jharkhand

Apart from alliance dynamics, dissatisfaction with the incumbent state government and consolidation of tribal votes helped the JMM-led alliance

In a state with a history of fractured mandates, the opposition alliance led by the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) secured a comfortable victory in the Jharkhand assembly elections, winning 46 seats in the 81-member assembly.

How did they manage this feat? Data from a post-poll survey conducted by Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) indicates that apart from alliance dynamics, acute dissatisfaction with the incumbent state government, and low popularity of Chief Minister Raghubar Das led to the BJP’s defeat.

In terms of vote shares, the election seems to be a repeat of 2014 with the alliance between JMM, Congress and RJD ensuring a consolidation of the anti-incumbent sentiment. Though the BJP’s vote share was marginally higher than 2014 (mostly due to contesting more seats in 2019), its seat tally declined sharply from 37 seats to 25 seats. The combined vote share of the JMM led alliance was slightly better than earlier – 33.4% now as compared to 31.3% in 2014 when they fought alone.

There is little doubt that it was the JMM’s standout performance that led the alliance to victory. Contesting on their own, the smaller regional players – the All Jharkhand Students’ Union (AJSU) and Babulal Marandi’s Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM) won just 2 and 3 seats respectively. The BJP and AJSU’s failure to form an alliance did hurt both parties on a few seats.

The Lokniti-CSDS survey revealed a dismal appraisal of the state government’s performance by voters. Less than four out of ten respondents (39%) said that they were satisfied with the state government’s performance. In contrast to the state government, there was a relatively more positive assessment of the central government, with almost half of the respondents (47%) satisfied with the performance of the central government. The satisfaction with both the state and the centre seem to have decreased since the Lok Sabha election. Also, the Indian voter seems to be increasingly holding distinct preferences for state and national elections, and the Jharkhand verdict fits in with that trend.

There was a clear negative sentiment against the former chief minister Raghubar Das, who lost the election in his own constituency. In an open-ended question on chief ministerial choice, less than one-sixth (14%) of the respondents mentioned him as their foremost choice. A plurality of respondents (21%) said that they would like to see JMM’s Hemant Soren as the next chief minister of the state.

The latest survey also assessed general perception of various state and national leaders in Jharkhand. Only half of the respondents (51%) said that they like CM Raghubar Das and nearly an equal proportion said they disliked him. His principal rival Hemant Soren was liked by more than two-thirds of respondents (69%) and very few disliked him. Among national leaders, Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains most popular in the state as 80% respondents said that they like him.

Unemployment (18%) and price rise (16%) seemed to be the foremost concerns of voters in Jharkhand, the survey suggests. The BJP should be worried as inability to control the prices of essential commodities amidst an economic slowdown could breed resentment among the masses.

Expectedly, the JMM-Congress alliance did quite well in constituencies with high tribal populations. The BJP won just 2 out of the 28 reserved constituencies in the state; much lower than the 13 seats that it won in alliance with AJSU in 2014.

Similar to the overall vote shares of parties, even community wise voting patterns remained similar to 2014. The BJP still led among its core base in the state – the upper castes and OBCs. Dalit voters in the state were split almost equally between the opposition alliance and the BJP. The opposition’s victory may be attributed to its success in taking a substantial lead among Adivasi voters, among the largest social groups in the state.

The Jharkhand election is the fifth state where the BJP has failed to retain power in the past year. The party is clearly struggling to counter anti-incumbency at the state level, with state level factors taking primacy in voters’ minds and national issues becoming less relevant for them. The sluggish economy also seems to be showing its electoral consequences.

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