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Jharkhand Assembly Elections – Is the BJP Losing Control of States?

India witnessed its 17th Lok Sabha elections this year, where after a tense period of campaigning, polling and vote counting, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) retained power for a second term with a massive mandate – winning a total of 353 seats. However, along with the general elections, our country also held the legislative assembly elections for 7 states, namely, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Sikkim, Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand. India ended this year’s election session with the assembly elections in Jharkhand, which were held from November 30 to December 20. The verdict was in favour of the JMM-Congress-RJD alliance, with Hemant Soren of JMM expected to be sworn in as the Chief Minster (CM) for the second time since 2013.

Loss of another state for BJP

The election results were declared on December 23 with the three-party alliance led by the JMM, managing to seize power from the BJP in a landslide victory by gaining 47 out of 81 seats in the Assembly. The BJP, which in the previous assembly elections, had won a clear majority in the House with a total of 37 seats, managed to win only 25 this time. The Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) won in 3 constituencies, while the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), won 1 seat each.  The erstwhile Chief Minister from the BJP, Raghubar Das is supposed to act as the caretaker CM until the new government is formed by Hemant Soren.

After the Maharashtra fiasco, where the BJP and Shiv Sena failed to form a coalition government (and BJP’s reputation was dented), the loss in Jharkhand will not be easy to digest even though it is a small state in comparison.  The timing of it is also bad for the BJP, especially when the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) last week had been more than what it may have anticipated.

A startling yet significant conclusion that can be observed now is the increasing number of states slipping out of the BJP’s stronghold; the governing party at the Centre is now in power in just a mere 35% of the country’s landmass, as compared to its previous 71% during its height in 2017. This has led to many commentators raising some important questions – Does ‘Modi Magic’ work only at the center? Don’t the states have credible leaders from the BJP that the populace can trust?  Should BJP get ready for anti-incumbency wave in other states as well?

The Jharkhand result also highlights a new pattern that is a cause of concern for the BJP. The party’s failure to retain its allies is increasingly becoming evident, whereas regional players like the JMM, Shiv Sena and NCP are gaining predominance. Most importantly, the Congress, which had a major part to play in toppling the BJP over in the states of Maharashtra and Jharkhand, seems to be gaining in power gradually.

Reasons for the BJP’s defeat

The major question that now arises is, what exactly went wrong for the BJP? If we analyse the turn of events, one thing becomes clear – the BJP over-estimated its strength, committing a sort of political hubris. Its ally, the All Jharkhand Students’ Union (AJSU), demanded 20 seats, but the BJP did not want to relinquish more than 15. In what seems to be a failed bargain, the BJP, only too confident of its self-sufficiency, decided to stand alone.

Comparing the current vote-seat share to the previous time, we find that the BJP-AJSU alliance in 2014 had polled 35%, the two parties gaining 31% and 4% of the vote share, respectively. This time, the BJP and the AJSU polled 34% and 9% of the votes, that is, more than the last time, but their seat shares dropped massively.

The BJP’s defeat is multifaceted. Another prime reason for its loss was the fact that in 2014, the party selected Raghubar Das, a nontribal leader, as the CM for a tribal-dominated state. This imbalance in representation only led to a slippery slope for the party, as this decision led to a drastic curtailment of job opportunities in the state, threatened the tribals’ land rights and resulted in a pathetic delivery of welfare schemes. The dwindling economy, stagnant investment projects and the state government’s proposal of the anti-conversion bill which received heavy backlash from the tribal population, did nothing to appease the people, and only kept adding to the nails in its coffin.

The Opposition easily played its trump card, by painting the BJP as anti-tribal, highlighting the fact that the CM is an outsider, as Raghubar Das was born in Chhattisgarh. The fact that the founder of the JMM, Shibu Soren, had led a concerted uprising against the issue of institutionalised oppression by money lenders, and had also called for a battle for the recognition of Jharkhand as a separate state, was deftly used to add to party’s image as a benefactor. The allies – Congress and RJD – drew the anxious minorities towards themselves as the BJP raised controversial issues such as Article 370, the Mandir vs Masjid matter, and most recently, the CAA and the NRC.

Thus, Mr Modi and the BJP made futile attempts to indemnify for local dissatisfaction by broaching polarising issues, instead of empathising more with regional aspirations. According to some commentators, the party has had to pay a heavy price for poor brand management yet again.

Implications

If we look at the bigger picture, it certainly seems bleak for the BJP. Within the span of one year, the party lost majority in 5 states – Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and now Jharkhand. The situation is somewhat reminiscent of the 1967 state assembly elections, when the Congress did manage to retain its majority in the Lok Sabha, but it received a major jolt in the states. A popular saying that was doing the rounds at that time was that one could take a train from Delhi to Agra without passing through even one Congress governed state. The implications for BJP in 2019 have been nothing short of a political earthquake, with commentators similarly observing, that from Rajasthan in the west to Bengal in the east, one can traverse without driving through a state where the BJP is in power.

As a consequence, the earlier belief that the Modi-Shah led BJP has the potential to institutionalise an undefeated reign with strong political strategies now faces a serious roadblock prior to the crucial assembly elections to be held in in Delhi, Bihar, West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu.

The most serious impact however, is bound to be on the BJP’s relations with existing and future potential allies, which will be yet another stumbling block. The party’s capability to draw allies like moths to a flame has reduced immensely. Since 2017, it has lost important regional parties such as the Shiv Sena, PDP, TDP and AJSU.

Yet another state loss automatically implies that the BJP’s position in the Rajya Sabha may not improve anytime in the near future and consequentially keep the party dependent on non-NDA players like the AIADMK and the BJD in the Upper House. Again, as a snowball effect, the Central government’s legislative capability will face serious hurdles as Constitutional amendments require ratification by 50% of the state assemblies.

At the national level, along with the steady loss in states, factors such as the nationwide protests which the government is struggling to deal with, coupled with the economic slowdown is bound to drastically affect the morale of the BJP cadres, which if not boosted anytime soon, may lead to severe repercussions for the party’s future. As for now, the party needs to buckle up and take serious ameliorative measures to do a good showing in the upcoming Assembly elections in Delhi.

Picture Credits: businesstoday.in



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