Why 5-phase poll in Jharkhand when Maha did it in one

Jharkhand

Barely a fortnight back, Assembly elections were held in Maharashtra and Haryana on October 21. One of the largest states (second only to UP in terms of parliamentary seats), Maharashtra saw voting in a single phase for the 288-member Assembly. Despite Maoist-infested areas like Gadchiroli in Maharashtra, the state witnessed peaceful polling.

Now, contrast this with Jharkhand. A small state that was carved out of Bihar in November 2000 and which is dominated by tribals, Jharkhand has only 81 Assembly constituencies – less than 30% the number in Maharashtra. But tiny Jharkhand, to everyone’s astonishment, will have a five-phase poll beginning November 30 and ending on December 20. The counting will take place on December 23. A new government is expected to be sworn in in the last week of December (unless there is a dramatic turn of events similar to what Maharashtra is witnessing) as the term of the current Jharkhand Assembly expires on January 5, 2020.

Interestingly, the model code of conduct came into effect the moment the Election Commission announced the poll dates on November 1. A small state, with a population of 32 million, out of which 8.6 million are Scheduled Tribes (STs) and 3.9 million are Scheduled Castes (SCs), Jharkhand will remain under the model code of conduct for two months till the poll process is completed. Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora justified the prolonged duration of the elections and cited the 2014 Assembly poll schedule saying, “earlier also, polls in Jharkhand have been conducted in five phases.”

To buttress his point, the CEC argued that four out of every five Assembly constituencies in Jharkhand were affected by Maoist violence. “Out of 81 Assembly seats in the state, 67 constituencies are affected by Maoist violence. So, special security arrangements have to be made by deploying adequate forces in the Maoist-affected districts,” he said.

“In fact, out of 24 districts in Jharkhand, 19 districts are Maoist-infested. So, we have to conduct the Assembly election in five phases,” Arora argued when pressed further on the multi-phase polls.

The CEC’s assertion is in sharp contrast to Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das who, during a media interaction in 2017, had insisted that 70% of Naxalism had been wiped out and the remaining 30% would be finished by December 2017. “From the beginning of 2018, Jharkhand will be free from the menace of Naxalism as we have taken several steps to end the Naxalite terror,” Das, the first non-tribal Chief Minister of Jharkhand, had said.

But the assertions by the state’s top executive seems to have cut little ice with the CEC who spoke at length about how Left-wing extremism (LWE) had forced the Election Commission to prepare a long-drawn poll schedule with an aim that “we should finish it (elections) before Christmas.”

The Congress and other Opposition leaders, who during their meeting with the EC team had pleaded for single or two-phase polls, were quick to point out the contradictory stand of the CEC and the Jharkhand CM.

“The Chief Election Commissioner’s stand that 67 Assembly constituencies, out of 81 seats, are Naxal-infested, exposes Raghubar Das’ claim to have wiped out Naxalism in the state,” argued Jharkhand Congress spokesperson Alok Dubey.

Social media rebuke

Not only politicians, even common people used social media platforms to express their dismay over the prolonged poll schedule, that too in a year when there was no violence during the Lok Sabha elections in the state in May 2019.

“5 phases for 81 seats of Jharkhand Election 2019. Next what, 12 phases for the 70 seats of Delhi Assembly Elections?” tweeted one Vinay Kumar Dokania.

Another tweet from Ajith Kumar said, “…are you incapable of holding one state election in a week? That too when there is no other election to monitor? What kind of election machinery you have…”

Yet another Twitter user wrote: “…The election for 81 constituencies will be held in 5 phases. In a big state like Maharashtra, elections were held in 1 stage. ECI is independent OR a bull tied to a government?”

4 ex-CMs

Despite the contradictory stand of the CEC and the Jharkhand CM, one thing is certain: Jharkhand will have a long, boring and stressful election. The only interesting thing to watch will be the fate of four former chief ministers of Jharkhand, all tribals, who lost from their fiefdoms in the December 2014 polls.

And the list includes leaders from across the political spectrum. While Arjun Munda, the tribal face of the BJP, lost from Kharsawan in Singhbhum, JMM’s Hemant Soren, too, lost the last Assembly poll in Dumka, his father Shibu Soren’s bastion (although the junior Soren won from his second seat, Barhait). Similarly, the first chief minister of Jharkhand, Babulal Marandi, who floated his own outfit -- Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM) -- after his exit from the BJP more than a decade back, lost in both the seats he contested from: Giridih and Raj Dhanwar.

And, Madhu Koda, an independent legislator, who went on to become Jharkhand CM (and created a record of sorts), too, lost from Majhgaon in 2014. Interestingly, all these former chief ministers were tribals and lost in the state where 28 seats, out of 81, are reserved for STs (Nine seats are reserved for the Scheduled Castes; the remaining 44 seats are under general category).

But that was in 2014.

During the 2019 parliamentary election, Madhu Koda’s wife Geeta Koda was, incidentally, the only Congress MP who romped home when even bigwigs like Subodh Kant Sahay lost and NDA won 12 out of 14 Lok Sabha seats in Jharkhand. The people’s verdict, therefore, remains unpredictable.

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