Jharkhand goes to polls which will be held in five phases during November-December 2014 along with Jammu and Kashmir. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is looking to bag one more state on the back of a magnificent victory in the Lok Sabha polls and its recent victories in Maharashtra and Haryana.
The state was carved out of Bihar (Jharkhand is essentially south Bihar) in 2000 by the then AB Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government conceding to decades old demand of tribals for a separate state. Jharkhand ranks 15th in terms of area and 13th in terms of population amongst the states in India. It has a population of 33 million with tribals accounting for only 28%. Since the state is rich in mineral resources and has big industrial towns like Bokaro and Jamshedpur, there has been an exodus of people from Bihar to the state. Hence the state boasts of a significant Bihari population. Hinduism is the biggest faith with 68% people practicing it. Currently Hemant Soren (son of Shibu Soren - one of the spearheads of the separate Jharkhand movement) is the chief minister backed by Congress, Lalu's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal United (JDU) and others.
The state has been politically unstable witnessing nine chief ministerial and three Presidential Rule terms in a span of 14 years - that means almost one CM every year. People of the state have never given a decisive mandate as there are a number of parties with dedicated vote bank. Apart from national parties - Congress and BJP - the pro-Jharkhand movement parties spearheaded by Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and its splinter groups like All Jharkhand Student's Union (AJSU) also have a hold. Regional parties of Bihar - RJD and JD(U) - too have a strong cadre base due to historical reasons. Left parties and lately Mamata's Trinamool Congress also have carved some presence in the state. Babu Lal Marandi (the first CM of the state) broke away from the BJP and formed his own outfit called Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM). But the key to the CM's chair has invariably been with JMM and Independents.
In 2000, Jharkhand had state polls along with those in Bihar. Post the Bihar reorganisation act, Jharkhand was created with 81 seats and Bihar assembly strength reduced from 325 to 243 members.
When the state was created in 2000, the BJP bagged the highest number of seats and along with the JD(U) (it's ally then) it had 40 seats, one short of majority. JMM was second with 12 seats and along with Congress and Lalu it managed 32 seats. There was a lot of hectic parleys and the BJP managed to form a government with the help of Independents. This was the only stable government the state ever had, except for the fact that the BJP had to change the CM mid way because of pressure from allies.
In 2005, the mandate was again fractured. The BJP though got the highest vote share of 23.6% its seats marginally declined to 30. Along with the JD(U) it bagged 36 seats. The JMM improved its performance and bagged 17 seats. It along with Congress and the RJD ended up with 33 seats. After intense negotiations, JMM stated claim to form a government with support of Independents and others. It lost the confidence motion and the BJP once again formed the government with the help of Independents and Madhu Koda emerged a prominent figure in the process.
Guruji, as Shibu Soren is fondly called, could not take this insult lying. He managed to wean away Koda from the BJP in less than 1.5 years. Guruji convinced Congress and Lalu to support Koda as the CM. Thus Indian politics witnessed a rare phenomenon and an independent MLA became the CM of the state - only for the third time in the history of India. Koda was in power for almost two years and he looted the state with both hands. He became a household name after he was arrested for his part in corruption scandals during his tenure.
Differences cropped up between Koda and Guruji and the JMM pulled the plug in August 2008. Though it was pre-planned, the JMM helped Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) win a trust vote in July 2008, and in a quid pro quo deal he had to be made the CM. As the drama unfolded, he lost the state assembly elections in January 2009 and had to resign. He became the second sitting CM in the history of Indian politics to lose elections. The state then came under President's Rule for a year.
Elections were held again in 2009 and this time as well the voters gave a severely fractured mandate. Margin of 5,000 votes is considered very good in state assembly elections. 45 out of 81 seats saw margins greater than 5,000. So though voters were not decisive on a pan state level, they were fairly decisive seat wise.
The BJP lost badly and its seats declined to 18, though its vote share fell marginally to a level of 20%. The JMM came joint first with 18 seats with a marginal increase in vote share to 15%. Guruji made it pretty clear that he was ready to take the support of any party which would make him the CM. The Congress-JVM-RJD combine won 30 seats but could not get the support of the AJSU. The BJP supported Guruji and he became the CM for the third time. Shibu now also became an MP. He voted in favour of Manmohan Singh's government in a motion in Parliament. This irked the BJP and it withdrew support. He had to resign and could not get Congress and JVM to bail him out.
The state again came under President's Rule for three months or so. The BJP formed the government in September 2010 with the support of JMM and AJSU. Guruji's son, Hemant, now had control over the party and offered support to the BJP. This seemed to be against Guruji's wishes. A power sharing agreement was reached and they decided to rotate the post of the CM for 28 months between themselves.
In January 2013, the JMM pulled its support as the BJP refused to hand over power to Guruji as part of the deal. The state plunged into crisis all over again and President's Rule was imposed. In July, Hemant became the CM with support of Congress and RJD.
The politics in Jharkhand is like a game of musical chairs with Guruji holding the aces. Congress and JMM have failed to put together an alliance to counter the BJP. There was plan of a grand alliance of Congress, Lalu, Soren and Nitish. But Guruji is too shrewd to let his option of backing the BJP or getting its support post polls. He wants to keep all his options open.In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP swept the state with 12 seats out of 14 with 40% vote share. Jharkhand witnessed a high turnout of 64%. People seemed to have be fed up with the dirty alliance politics in the state.
Will the BJP be able to repeat its performance this time around as well?
Keep an eye on this space for an in-depth analysis on the various issues related to the current elections and the prospects of various parties.
(Suryakiran Tiwari aka Politicalbaaba runs a popular blog on Indian politics and elections. Politicalbaaba has been nominated by The Guardian as one of the online voices providing an alternative view on India and the general elections. Politicalbaaba also writes on social and economic issues)