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Thursday, Oct 17, 2019

In Jharkhand, it’s PM Modi’s appeal versus Opposition’s caste arithmetic

The opposition alliance, comprising the Congress, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), is posing a challenge to the BJP, which is fighting the elections solely in Modi’s name.

lok-sabha-elections Updated: May 12, 2019 07:41 IST
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Hindustan Times, Dhanbad/Giridih
Polling has already been held in seven seats. Four seats — Jamshedpur, Singhbhum, Giridih and Dhanbad — will vote on Sunday. Polling in Godda, Rajmahal and Dumka will be held on May 19.
Polling has already been held in seven seats. Four seats — Jamshedpur, Singhbhum, Giridih and Dhanbad — will vote on Sunday. Polling in Godda, Rajmahal and Dumka will be held on May 19. (AFP file photo)
         

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity faces a litmus test in Jharkhand as the ruling BJP takes on the “mahagathbandhan” whose caste arithmetic is strong both on paper and the ground.

The opposition alliance, comprising the Congress, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), is posing a challenge to the BJP, which is fighting the elections solely in Modi’s name.

“My vote is for Modi and not for the BJP candidate. My family had been Congress supporters for decades and some of them still are but I think differently,” said 28-year-old Pankaj Mishra, a resident of Dhanbad, known as India’s coal capital .

Polling has already been held in seven seats. Four seats — Jamshedpur, Singhbhum, Giridih and Dhanbad — will vote on Sunday. Polling in Godda, Rajmahal and Dumka will be held on May 19. The BJP has re-nominated Pashupati Nath Singh from Dhanbad while the Congress has fielded Kirti Azad, a three-time BJP MP from Darbhanga in neighbouring Bihar.

Though the BJP is primarily fighting on a national security plank, party leaders talk about “double-engine growth” at their rallies and claim that Jharkhand witnessed “massive development” during Modi’s five-year term. The saffron party, however, is worried about perceived anti-incumbency against the state government, headed by chief minister Raghubar Das, coupled with trouble from rebels in several constituencies. These factors might dent the BJP’s chances of repeating its 2014 performance, when it won 12 of the 14.

Das is likely to be the first chief minister in the state’s political history to complete a full five-year term by October-November when assembly elections are due. But some decisions and policies of his government in the past two years have met resistance, especially from tribals, who constitute 26% of Jharkhand’s 31.9 million population, as per the 2011 census.

The attempt to amend two laws — Chotanagpur Tenancy Act and Santhal Parganas Tenancy Act — that prohibit transfer of tribal land to non-tribals not only triggered a backlash but also galvanised the Opposition. “We will have to ensure BJP’s defeat. Otherwise, they will try to finish us,” said Baydu Sao, a resident of Baijhnath village in Giridih. “We will vote for those who protect and empower us,” added Mamki, another resident, as he smilingly pointed to a JMM poster with its bow-and-arrow symbol.

The grand alliance has vowed to protect water, forest and land of the natives, and made the issue its key campaign point. Of the 14 seats, the Congress is contesting seven, JMM four, JVM (P) two and the RJD one. The BJP has left the Giridih seat for alliance partner All Jharkhand Student Union Party, led by Sudesh Mahto, sacrificing its five-time MP Ravindra Kumar Pandey.

Not only tribals, the opposition alliance is also banking on Muslims and Christians, apart from sections of Scheduled Castes and OBCs. According to the 2011 census, Muslims comprise 14.53% of Jharkhand’s population while Christians constitute about 4.30%. Unofficial estimates put the OBC figure at around 53% and Dalits at 12%. The BJP has maintained it is necessary to bring about changes in the 110-year-old laws to ensure development of tribals.

“For the first time, we are fighting on twin issues of development and national pride. There are certain anti-national forces indulging in religious conversions and they are trying to instigate tribals against us,” said Jharkhand BJP spokesperson Pratul Shah Deo.

But Congress spokesperson Rajeev Ranjan Prasad disagreed. “There is nothing called ‘double-engine growth’. In fact, the BJP is facing double anti-incumbency of the central and state governments. Whether or not Modi is popular we will come to know on May 23,” he said. Political analysts argue that the mahagathbandhan, despite being a formidable force, has marred its chances in some seats due to its “internal contradictions”.

“Take, for example, Godda where a Muslim should have been given the ticket. Similarly, the alliance should have conceded the Kodarma seat to a Left party. Also, they are having a friendly fight in Chatra,” said LK Kundan, associate professor of political science in Ranchi University.

First Published: May 12, 2019 07:02 IST

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