Out Of The Red And Into The Saffron?: Jharkhand Elections 2014, Understanding The Politics

Posted on November 27, 2014 in Politics

 By Jai Prakash Ojha:

The first phase of the Jharkhand Assembly Elections 2014 is over and the stage is all set for the next four phases in the remaining sixty eight assembly seats. Despite Maoist threats not to allow elections, a relatively high voter turnabout of 62 percent was recorded in the 13 Assembly constituencies that went to the polls in the 6 heavily Naxal infested districts of the state. Is the high voter participation manifestation of the higher hopes and expectations in the minds of the 22 million electorates engendered by the Modi magic? As witnessed in Haryana and Maharashtra Assembly elections, the BJP refrained from naming any chief ministerial candidate for the Jharkhand polls beforehand making it amply clear that it intends to ride on the Modi factor to emerge victorious. To what extent this ploy succeeds, only time will tell.

jharkhand elections

The electoral fight, as usual, is going to be three pronged— JMM, Congress-RJD-JDU alliance and the NDA spearheaded by BJP and bolstered by the presence of AJSU. In its 14 years of existence, the state has seen intense political instability marked by the tenure of 9 chief ministers and 3 spells of the President’s Rule. The party JMM that led the crusade for the formation of Jharkhand state has never been quite able to establish its political supremacy in the face of a spirited fight by the BJP or even the Congress, at times. The demography factor needs a closer look. Around 30 percent of the state population comprises tribals and the rest non tribals, out of which 12 percent are SCs. Though the non tribals constitute the numerical majority, all the Jharkhand CMs till date have been tribals despite the fact that there is nothing in the statutes that debars non tribals from becoming CM of the state. This is the cause for simmering tension within the rank and file of the non tribal electorate cutting across caste divides compounding the predicament of the local Jharkhand parties like JMM that draw sustenance from identity politics creating tribal – non tribal schism. Ethnicity is more a factor than caste in the state polity.

Then, there is the contentious issue of domicile. Since, the state has a large population that has come from Bihar, whenever there is a talk of domicile based on 1932 land records on the part of local tribal leaders, tempers flare up. There have been differences on this issue between the Jharkhand parties and others like RJD, BJP & Congress. The dilemma for BJP would be on how to weld together these divisive issues of identity, tribal – non tribal divide and domicile to forge a consensus.

The twin planks of governance and development are no less important here as people have seen high levels of corruption and plunder of resources during the previous regimes, especially under Madhu Khoda. Despite accounting for more than 40 percent mineral wealth of the nation, the state still reels under acute poverty and distressing human development indices. While other states are vying for investment and creating conducive climate for this, Jharkhand lacks the political sagacity to do so. The present JMM government is still busy in providing dole outs and entitlements oblivious to the fact that the aspirations of the people, especially the youth, have gone up higher. They yearn for opportunities; they aspire and want to swim with the tide of globalization and issues of governance and development matter more to them than politics of entitlement, patronage and identity.

In this age of internet, mobile telephony and ICT, the national and regional issues are not that distant; the national and regional aspirations have synchronized. ‘Make in India’ campaign needs Jharkhand’s enormous mineral wealth to succeed and this can only happen if the state reads from the same page as the Centre, something which the BJP wants to convey to the masses. The state suffers from perennial problems of water scarcity and drought in most of its districts; agriculture is in distress but due to political apathy, scientific methods of dry land farming and drought resistant varieties of crops have not been introduced adequately. Successive state governments have failed to combat the Naxal threat and reports of collusion between Naxals and state leaders occasionally spring out. The Naxals have stalled development and created pockets of influence. The state police have failed miserably. Since law and order is a state subject, central forces are not given the desired cooperation to operate independently. The Jharkhand outcome may be influenced by these factors that may show the state government in poor light.

By lambasting the prevalence of dynastic politics in JMM, Modi has shown his preference for merit based leadership or the one that is result oriented striking a chord with the people fed up with JMM rule. The Modi wave might work here as the national mood shows and there has been a trend towards nationalization of state elections. Rampant political instability and visionless state political leadership with poor track record in governance may compel the electorate to opt for stability and development. Moreover, people now seem to understand that Naxals can only be contained by the Centre. Prices of commodities and petrol/diesel have come down and Modi initiatives like Clean India Campaign, Make in India Campaign and Jan Dhan Yojana have captured the imagination of the masses. India’s international stock has gone up, further buttressing the ‘Ache Din’ phenomenon. Incidents like slogans in favour of Modi in a Sonia rally or hooting of Jharkhand CM in a joint event with the PM, are not isolated incidents but those that are a pointer of things to come.

With 12 seats out of 14 in the last Lok Sabha elections and a lead in 56 out of 81 Assembly segments, BJP seems well set to improve on its 2009 Assembly elections tally of 18 seats. JMM with 18 seats in 2009 Jharkhand Elections may have to fight anti incumbency factor this time and may ally with Congress-RJD-JDU alliance post election to stall government formation of BJP. It will be a fight between Hindutva right wing and the forces of Mandal, left & tribal ethnicity combined. The role of Christian missionaries with their spread among tribal population and with their inherent pathology for RSS will be watched keenly.