Jharkhand loss holds key lessons for BJP

More important than the BJP’s failure to win or form the government in Jharkhand is that it failed emerge as the largest single party, the credit for which went to a largely corrupt regional outfit like the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM). That is the biggest take of the poll results. Mind you, this is despite the fact that the BJP gave Jharkhand a stable and largely graft free regime. Which is why the right lessons need to be learnt by the saffron party to prevent further reverses.

The BJP has in the last 13 months lost power in Madhya Pradesh despite having the largest vote share; Rajasthan by less than two lakh votes; Karnataka, where it is back in saddle, and Maharashtra due to the betrayal of an old ally. Chhattisgarh, and now Jharkhand are the only two states where it was roundly defeated. Both states have a sizeable tribal population. The dent in Haryana too hold lessons though the party managed to cling on to power.

Two things are evident from the nature the outcome. One, foisting an unpopular or unknown face as chief minister, howsoever clean the image over better known chieftains, howsoever doubtful their integrity, does not work; and two, ignoring the interests of the state’s largest community will ultimately backfire.

Both in Jharkhand as well as Haryana, the BJP appointed rootless politicians to run the state. Neither proved popular despite running graft free regimes. Quite obviously, this was done to put ambitious local bigwigs in their place, and show that the party was more important than their magnum sized egos – besides driving home the point that they needed the party more the party needed them.

Much the same logic compelled the BJP to snub the majority formations in both states: Jats in Haryana and tribals in Jharkhand. Both struck back resulting in loss of primacy. That the comeback in Haryana could not have been possible sans the support of one of the big Jat clans, the Chautalas, is a reality which cannot be shrugged off.

Like M L Khattar in Haryana, the choice of Raghubar Das over an Arjun Munda or Babulal Marandi (who was compelled to quit after the injustice meted out to him), whatever their faults, did not go down well. Khattar was a full-time RSS pracharak with no experience of active politics till asked to contest from Karnal in 2014 over the claims of other party activists. The case of Das is slightly different. He is  a former employee of Tata Steel where his father was a labourer. He cut his teeth in the JP movement and has been in the BJP since its formation in 1980.  Ideally, 15 years as MLA from Jamshedpur, an SC tag,  plus the experience of being the party’s state president till his selection as CM should have worked well, but not in a state with a 27 per cent tribal populace.

Image Credit: India Today

Political power revealed in Das an ego which others found insufferable. Lack of Hindutva credentials also proved a liability. Rampant conversions of adivasis by evangelizing  Christians has been a hot button issue in the state. Amazingly enough, it was not as much as raised during the campaign. Roping in Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath as a campaigner thus proved an utter waste. Result: Das was trounced from his Jamshedpur (East) seat along with several other undeserving nominees to whom he had farmed out tickets.

Dealing with allies has been the BJP’s Achilles heel. Humility has been never been party’s preserve. Temperamentally it is unsuited to running coalitions under those currently at the helm. Not that they did not try being as reasonable as possible under the circumstances. In Jharkhand its ally, the All Jharkhand Students Union, wanted an unreasonable 18 seats while the BJP was ready to accommodate 12. A post-poll analysis shows the BJP-AJSU compact might have won well over 40 seats had the pre-poll pact stayed. Trouble with over ambitious allies also cost the party power in Maharashtra. There, the Shiv Sena, with half the BJP’s strength, wanted the chief minister’s chair for half the term. Given its difficulties,  the BJP will have to prepare the ground to go it alone as far as feasible.

The BJP’s biggest mistake, however, was the misplaced hope that proactive decisions in the national arena would pay it dividends in state elections. Issues like Triple Talaq, Article 370, and Ayodhya found no traction in a state counted as the second poorest.

Local bread and butter issues were almost wholly ignored during the campaign. Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi did talk of  “vikas” in his speeches,  it was more in a general vein rather than on the specific problems facing the state. Especially at a time when  unemployment has been at a record high, and the mining and quarrying sector, Jharkhand’s economic lifeline, is almost stagnant. Change in land acquisition laws is a sensitive issue in tribal states like Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Adivasis have an emotional attachment to land which is everything to them. Outgoing CM Raghubar Das could have done nothing worse than tried amending the rules without adequate consultation.

The string of electoral losses notwithstanding, it is not as if the BJP under Modi has lost its hold over the electorate. Let’s not forget that the party won a sweeping victory in the general election in all these states just seven months ago. But it will have to make major changes in strategy. More primacy will have to be given to local issues and the allies taken into greater confidence. This may require surrendering some space in the larger interest to keep rivals like the Congress at bay.

(Featured image source: indiatoday.com)

Update

This article has been updated at 16:30 hrs on 26 Dec, 2019

About the Author

Sudhir Kumar Singh
Sudhir Kumar Singh is an independent journalist who has worked in senior editorial positions in the Times Of India, Asian Age, Pioneer, and the Statesman. Also a sometime stage and film actor who has worked with iconic directors like Satyajit Ray and Tapan Sinha. He writes regularly for the HinduPost as consulting editor.