Jharkhand has been the BJP’s stronghold since the time the state was carved out in 2000.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi was scheduled to hold a road show in Ranchi recently, the Jharkhand Congress held a press conference comparing him and BJP president Amit Shah to horror film producers Ramsay brothers, stating that the two leaders “scared people”, just like the brothers’ movies did. The Jharkhand Congress also expressed confidence that Modi’s visit would eventually benefit the party as he talked about “futile issues”.
However, far from this, on the ground, voters are ready to vote for Modi despite anti-incumbency against local MPs.
Jharkhand has been the BJP’s stronghold since the time the state was carved out in 2000. The last two parliamentary elections, the party won most of the seats in the state, which is under its rule — eight of 14 in 2009; and 12 in 2014, riding on the Modi wave. Three of the 14 seats go to polls on April 29.
On April 24, during his visit to Lohardaga constituency, Modi called the Mahagathbandhan, which has ranged an impressive front in Jharkhand, “mahamilawatis (grand adulterators)”. He then went on to focus on the national security issue, including invoking Vijay Soreng from Jharkhand, who had died in the attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama, J&K.
A large part of his speech was devoted to tribals, who constitute 26% of the Jharkhand population. Accusing the Congress of manipulating them, Modi said that as long as he, the “chowkidaar”, was there, “aapke jal, jameen aur jungle ko koi bhi panja haath nahin laga payega (no ‘hand’ will be able to touch your water, land or forest)”.
The Mahagathbandhan has accused Chief Minister Raghubar Das of tweaking the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act — enabling agricultural land use for non-agricultural purposes — as well as ignoring the tribal demand for a Sarna code, formalising their acceptance as distinct from Hindu religion.
The Mahagathbandhan includes regional parties Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) (JVM-P), headed by former CM and BJP rebel Babulal Marandi, and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) (that won two seats in 2014), as well as the RJD and Congress. While the Congress will contest from seven seats, the JMM from four, the JVM(P) from two and the RJD from one.
The BJP has one ally, the All Jharkhand Students Union Party. Having refused tickets to four sitting MPs — Ravindra Ray (Koderma), Ravindra Pandey (Giridih), Karia Munda (Khunti) and Ram Tahal Choudhary (Ranchi) — the party is battling rebellion. Pandey made a public appeal to the BJP to reconsider its decision, while Choudhary has filed nomination as an Independent from Ranchi.
However, the BJP is confident not just due to Modi’s appeal but also the fact that in 2014, its vote share of 40.1% was more than the votes together polled by the above four parties (36.4%).
Plus, the Mahagathbandhan itself hasn’t ironed out seat-sharing creases. The RJD had threatened to go it alone for not getting Palamu and Chatra seats, and while on the face of it there is peace now, an RJD leader is contesting from Chatra, a seat that has gone to the Congress in the Mahagathbandhan arrangement.
In Godda, after the ticket went to the JVM(P), sitting Congress MP Furkaan Ansari accused Jharkhand Congress chief Ajoy Kumar of being biased towards the JVM(P), his former party.
With the Mahagathbandhan failing to include the Left, anti-BJP votes will get split in constituencies like Kodarma, where a CPI(ML) candidate had polled 2.66 lakh votes and lost by 1 lakh votes in 2014 to the BJP.
Where the Mahagathbandhan is surest is the seats where the BJP won by tight margins, despite the 2014 wave, such as Lohardaga, Godda, Giridih and Jamshedpur.
“Seeing these margins which could result in wins, the Mahagathbandhan was formed,” a Congress leader said, adding this also explained the ticket to former CM Madhu Koda’s wife Geeta Koda. Geeta, who joined the Congress last year, was nominated from Singhbhum, where she had come second to the BJP’s Laxman Giluwaa.