Jharkhand mandate: Is BJP losing its magic touch in tribal areas?
After having swept the state in Lok Sabha, the loss of Jharkhand Assembly elections is likely to hurt the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as a key province dominated by the tribal section of the population has slipped out of its fold.
Jharkhand has followed the neighbouring state of Chhattisgarh where too the BJP was voted out of power in the state Assembly after having ruled the state for 15 years on a trot. In Chhattisgarh, the Congress had won a thumping three-fourths majority.
In this backdrop, the BJP would have liked to get back strongly in Jharkhand. However, faced with massive infighting and struggling for tribal support, the BJP could even not emerge as the single largest party.
That chief minister Raghubar Das was not a tribal, unlike all his predecessors, was another fact that did not prove to be helpful.
Significantly, both states were created by the BJP which also went on to dominate the politics in this region.
Twenty six per cent of Jharkhand’s population is estimated to be belonging to the Scheduled Tribes while their share in Chhattisgarh is 31 per cent.
The trend, however, was not just limited to these two states as even in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections, the BJP candidates had found the going tough. The party could win only a third of the over 40 seats with a significant tribal population in 2018. In the previous state polls, the BJP had clinched a majority of them.
BJP leader and spokesperson Sudesh Verma, however, contended that the message was more nuanced one.
“It would be wrong to assume we have lost our presence in the tribal belt. Because if you see the support base, we have gained support even in Jharkhand. In Santhal-Pargana, which is supposed to be the tribal belt, although we may have not won the number of seats, if you see our votes, it is quite substantial. We expected to do well in Santhal Pargana because we have done a lot of work,” he said.
The BJP leader said even in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the BJP had ruled for three consecutive terms and there was triple anti-incumbency.
“In Madhya Pradesh, we have not lost heavily, it is just by a few seats that we have lost. In Chhattisgarh, yes, we lost substantially. That needs to be seen why we did that. Largely, fatigue of voters, that they wanted change. But in these three states, we will be coming back stronger and with a greater presence,” he said.
The BJP leader said the rival parties when they had come to power in these states had not benefitted tribals.
“Everybody knows that development suffered. When you give development, tribals also gain. And we have taken steps to ensure their lifestyle is not endangered. There the issue is how development is carried out without affecting their rights and lifestyle. In Jharkhand, when they (other parties) got a chance they indulged in corruption. We know the Congress installed Madhu Koda and what happened after that. We will wait and watch. BJP gave a non-corrupt government and good governance. Although victors write the history, if you look closer, we are very much there,” the BJP leader said.
Verma pointed out only a few months back, all these areas had wholehearted supported the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections.
However, coming to the picture at the state level, Odisha is another state with a sizeable tribal vote where the BJP with Jual Oram at the helm has made rapid strides in terms of vote bank. But with the Navin Pattnaik-led Biju Janata Dal maintaining a firm grip on power, the saffron party has had to remain content with being second best.
There are other states like Arunchal Pradesh and Tripura, where tribals are in a majority and have installed BJP regimes. Even in the state of Gujarat, tribals constitute a sizeable 15 per cent of the population.
Not just the BJP, even the ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) has also consistently focused on engaging with the tribal segment of the population.
The RSS through its organization Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram has actively engaged with tribal population across states.
When contacted, Pramod Petkar, the Prachar Pramukh of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, however, said the aim of his organization was primarity welfare, protection of rights and addressing issues like providing employment and education to the tribal section of the society.
There can be times when an associated person may take part in the electoral process but that is in their personal capacity as a citizen, he said.
“Our work continues regardless of who is inpower,” he said though adding that it is always beneficial if the people at the helm are working without any bias.