Jharkhand deals another blow to BJP's Cong-mukt mission

Jharkhand Election results come as BJP's 5th blow after losing in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra

The BJP lost Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan to the Congress in 2018 end. In November 2019 it lost Maharashtra as NDA ally Shiv Sena jolted it by joining hands with Congress and NCP over the issue of Chief Ministership. Photo/PTI

The BJP on Monday recoded its first clear electoral debacle--- in tribal state Jharkhand--- within six months of returning to power for a second consecutive term at the national with a huge mandate in 2019 general elections.

The Congress, which was found gasping for breath after a bare minimum improvement in its tally to 52 from its historical low of 44 in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, is looking up as this is the fifth state that the BJP lost in last one year—in three of which the Congress replaced it and in two it is backing regional parties. This raises serious questions on the earlier “Congress Mukt” pitch of the BJP.

The BJP lost Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan to the Congress in 2018 end. In November 2019 it lost Maharashtra as NDA ally Shiv Sena jolted it by joining hands with Congress and NCP over the issue of Chief Ministership. In Haryana, it barely managed to repeat its Chief Minister after offering Deputy Chief Ministership to a regional party.

Clearly, a pattern is emerging in which there is a gap between the votes the BJP is getting for a national level election in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is its face and states, where regional leaders are not so charismatic. This was evident when after losing three states last, BJP won the big number of seats in the Lok Sabha polls six months later.

The Jharkhand defeat for which Chief Minister Raghubar Das was quick to own up full responsibility insulating the party’s central leadership, happened despite a high octane campaign by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah amid high polarizing tempers on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and a shrill pitch on Ram temple, both of which reverberated in the tribal state.

In another bordering rival state Chhattisgarh, the BJP had recorded a similar rout in 2018 assembly polls. Both tribal states had come into being in 2000 when NDA’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee was Prime Minister.

For the BJP, the loss of Jharkhand, which has ever since its bifurcation from Bihar, has mostly been ruled by the saffron party that also gave it its first Chief Minister in Babulal Marandi, will rankle. The BJP lost even as Marandi, another prominent tribal face, did not back the Opposition alliance.

The BJP, which had traditionally favoured the creation of “Vananchal” state here, in 2014, experimented with a non-tribal Chief Minister in Raghubar Das, the first since the state was created.  It has not paid off with indications that over 26 tribals largely consolidated behind the JMM. So did 14.5 percent Muslims and the alliance also got a fair share of OBC votes thanks to the presence of Lalu Prasad-led RJD in the alliance.

The BJP’s social engineering of bringing together politically non-dominant groups and sidelining traditionally dominant castes in politics like Marathas in Maharashtra, Jaat in Haryana and tribal in Jharkhand, clearly failed to work. While Das was the first non-tribal CM in Jharkhand, Devendra Fadnavis was the second Brahmin CM in Maharashtra after Manohar Joshi (1995-1999), while Manohar Lal Khattar from Punjabi Kshatri community was a non-Jat CM after Bansi Lal (1996-1999).

Falling economy and industrial slowdown also seem to have damaged the BJP in the mineral-rich Jharkhand from migration for tribals to cities for work is a regular phenomenon.

After Jharkhand debacle, the Opposition was quick to raise questions on the infallibility of Modi charisma saying the results show the BJP can be defeated if Opposition parties come together. In a similar fashion, the BJP had lost badly in Bihar assembly polls in 2015 when regional Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar have come together with Congress just a year after the Narendra Modi juggernaut had decimated all of them in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

In Jharkhand, the BJP fought alone after its ally AJSU led by Sudesh Mahto contested independently. The outcome will have a cascading effect on the politics of Bihar, where Nitish Kumar has on many occasions, flagged its difference with BJP on key Hindutva planks. The JDU had contested polls in Jharkhand alone and so was the role of another NDA ally from Bihar—Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP.

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