Battle of two narratives in Jharkhand poll arena
The BJP’s election campaign stresses ‘double engine’ growth while the opposition JMM promises ‘restoration of land rights’.Updated: Dec 09, 2019 07:32 IST
Two hoardings among ubiquitous billboards put up side by side in poll-bound Jharkhand’s capital, Ranchi, define the key electoral issues, which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hopes will help it retain power and the Opposition Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM)-led alliance to wrest it.
The BJP’s hoarding focuses on the “double engine” growth that the party’s governments at the Centre and in Jharkhand have ensured. The JMM’s billboard promises “restoration of land rights” to the natives in the backdrop of changes made to the land acquisition rules in July.
The changes allow the government to acquire land for creating land banks for developmental works. Land remains a key issue in the state, where the government earlier dropped a proposal in 2015 for changing the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act to remove mandatory consent of the gram sabha or village councils to acquire land for development works.
The issues appear to have a resonance with the respective core urban and rural voter bases of the BJP and JMM.
Voters in the urban areas acknowledge that there has been an improvement in infrastructure, especially roads.
They say power supply and sewer systems have improved along with the delivery of government services even as some concerns remain about the corruption at government offices and inaccessibility of their elected representatives.
The core issue in rural areas, especially in tribal-dominated villages, appears to be a fear of losing land. There also appears to be a discontentment over issues like the poor delivery of the subsidised rations under the Public Distribution System (PDS).
The mood in rural areas is crucial for electoral outcomes in the state. Only seven of Jharkhand’s 81 assembly constituencies are urban, according to chief state electoral officer Vinay Choubey.
The tribals account for about 26.3% of the population and 91.7% of them live in rural areas, according to the 2011 census.
Somra Munda, a resident of Khunti district’s Senagutti village, said that since this government has come to power, it just wants to acquire their land and give it to outsiders.
In another tribal-dominated district of West Singhbhum, Ranjit Hembrom echoed Munda. “All this development of roads and electricity in our villages is to enable outsiders to come and grab our land with the help of the government officials.”
In Dumka, Joseph Hasda of Daharlangi-Rampur village said that most of the people there have some landholdings and if the government takes away their land, people will be left with nothing. “Land is everything for us and we will not allow the government to take it at any cost,” said fellow villager, Arjun Hasda.
The fears are ill-founded, insisted Ajit Kumar Pradhan, a non-tribal from Gawkalad in Chakradharpur assembly segment of West Singhbhum. “They [tribals] have been misguided by the opposition parties and non-government organisations.”
In Inderbani village of Dumka district, Abhir Roy, a farmer, said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP are not anti-tribal as the JMM is portraying them. “The BJP has worked for the welfare of all…”
Difficulties in getting subsidised rations under the PDS system since its linkage with the biometric identification card Aadhaar is another key issue in the rural areas. “Most of the time, the machines fail to read my fingerprint. It takes two to three days to get ration,” said Phoolmani Maski of Rustatola in Saraikela-Kharsawan district.
Some tribals complained about the toilets constructed for them saying they were unusable. “In our culture, there cannot be a toilet next to our kitchen,” said Pato Modhli of Daharlangi-Rampur village.
The BJP’s upper hand in urban areas was reflected in the mood at a tea stall near Ranchi’s Kokar industrial area. There appeared to be a consensus that the BJP government has delivered on its promises. “There is no reason for us to not vote for the BJP,” said vegetable vendor Amarnath Mahto, a Kurmi, as he sipped tea.
Kurmis, who account for 12% population, have been traditional BJP voters and their backing is seen to be the key to BJP’s extended rule of 14 years since Jharkhand was created in 2000.
Vinod Ojha, a trader, rued the losses the business community has been facing due to an economic slowdown but refused to blame the BJP government for it. “It [economic slowdown] is happening everywhere in the world. The government could have done more but they have their own constraints.”
The only tribal among them, Pintu Munda, disagreed. “Most of the promises made in 2014 elections have not been fulfilled. They told us that the government will create jobs for tribals and will improve our per capita income. Nothing like that has happened,” he said.
In Dhanbad, shopkeeper Sanjay Sahu claimed that the last five years have been the best because of all-around development. “This shows that a stable government can deliver,” he said, referring to the first government to complete its full term since Jharkhand was created in 2000.
Bhola Singh, who claimed to have voted for the BJP in 2014, said that he was angry with the state government for not helping workers like him when they lost their jobs. He added that the ancillary coal mining industry has reduced workers because of the slowdown.
Another worker, Ram Narain Singh, said that many workers have gone back to their villages in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar as there is no work here. “My wife now sells snacks outside our one-room house and I pull a rickshaw to support my family of six members.”
Chief minister Raghubar Das may be facing anti-incumbency but people did not complain much in Bistanagar colony of Jamshedpur, where he is pitted against his erstwhile cabinet colleague, Sarju Roy.
“A lot of developmental work has happened here during Raghubar Das’s tenure. The roads here are as good as in Delhi or Mumbai,” said Abni Roy, a resident. Mehram Yadav, a rickshaw puller, echoed him and added that the present government is less corrupt.
There appeared to be some resentment against outgoing lawmakers in urban areas despite a general appreciation for the BJP government. This is seen to be the reason why the BJP denied tickets to 10 lawmakers.
Jharkhand minister Loius Marandi said that the BJP government’s focus was on development for all. “We have worked in every sector. A large number of new colleges and education institutions have been opened. We also started over two lakh self-help groups to empower rural women and provided job avenues to youth,’’ said Marandi.
Marandi underlined that a five-year period is not a long time to bring a huge change in the lives of people, who have been deprived for centuries. “We have laid the foundation and its impact will be visible in the next five years,” she said. She expressed confidence that the BJP will return to power with a clear majority.
JMM’s general secretary, Vijay Kumar Singh, called the BJP government anti-tribal and anti-farmer. “The government made its intention clear to acquire tribal land for its businessmen friends by proposing to change the tenancy laws. It was only after agitation by us and other opposition parties that the government was forced to take back the decision. Unemployment is an all-time high in the state and migration to other states for work has increased. There is clear discontentment among people against the BJP,” he said.
Pramod Pathak of Dhanbad’s Indian Institute of Mines said that the BJP’s organisation at the ground level is stronger compared to 2014 and its workers have focused on the development works during canvassing. “Still, there is some anti-incumbency against the government and it would be interesting to see if the opposition is able to electorally benefit from it, considering its weak organisational structure at the village level.”
Pathak also said that the tribal and non-tribal divide has a history and is a reality in the state. “There is a strong feeling among tribals that the business community has exploited them and despite Jharkhand’s creation for tribals, justice has not been done. Political parties have unfortunately further aggravated the divide for electoral gains.”
The BJP is considered to be a party of non-tribals even though all its chief ministers before Raghubar Das were tribals. The JMM politics is all about tribals because of which it does not have much presence outside the tribal-dominated constituencies.
The staggered assembly elections in Jharkhand started on November 30. The last phase of polling will be held on December 20 and votes will be counted on December 23.