Tribal distrust key factor in BJP’s consecutive state election defeats
This week’s election outcome in Jharkhand, where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won only two of the 28 seats reserved for scheduled tribes (STs), reinforces a perception that tribespeople are slipping away from the party’s fold in a setback to its ambition of expanding its social base. In 2014, the party won 11 of the ST seats.
Even in tribal-dominated areas in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, where assembly polls were held in November 2018, the party lost most of the seats reserved for STs. In Chhattisgarh, the BJP won only three of the 29 seats reserved for tribals, down from an earlier 13. In Madhya Pradesh, it won 16 of the 47 tribal seats, compared to 31 in 2013.
The election result in Jharkhand clearly shows that tribal voters have followed the example of their counterparts in neighbouring Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh -- in both states, the BJP was voted out of power after being at the helm for 15 years on the trot. Both states voted for the Congress.
In Jharkhand this week, a three-party coalition of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) won power with 47 seats in the 81-member assembly.
In Jharkhand, the main reason for the alienation of tribespeople from the BJP was seen to be an attempt by the Raghubar Das government to acquire tribal land through amendments to two British-era tenancy laws --- Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act and Chotanagpur Tenancy Act. Das being a non-tribal, unlike his predecessors, didn’t help the BJP’s cause.
The opposition alliance led by JMM promised the return of tribal lands and higher paddy procurement prices on the lines of neighbouring Chhattisgarh.
Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh were created by the National Democratic Alliance government in 2000 as separate states out of Bihar and Madha Pradesh, respectively . In 2011,tribals made up 26% of Jharkhand’s population and in Chhattisgarh, they accounted for 31%.
BJP leader and spokesperson Sudesh Verma denied that the BJP had lost ground in the tribal belt.
“It would be wrong to assume we have lost our presence in the tribal belt. 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 that many seats, if you see our vote, it is quite substantial. We expected to do well in Santhal Pargana because we have done a lot of work there,” he said.
The BJP leader said that in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the BJP confronted anti-incumbency after having ruled the states for three consecutive terms. “In Madhya Pradesh, we have not lost heavily (in the tribal belt), it is just by a few seats that we lost. In Chhattisgarh, yes, we lost substantially... It was largely because of the fatigue of voters, who wanted change. In these three states, we will be coming back stronger and with a greater presence,” Verma said.
The BJP leader said rival parties coming to power in these states had not benefitted the tribespeople.
“Everybody knows that development suffered. When you give development, tribals also gain. 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. BJP gave a non-corrupt government and good governance. Although victors write the history, if you look closer, we are very much there,” Verma said.
Elswhere, Odisha is another state with a sizeable tribal vote where the BJP, with Jual Oram at the helm, has made rapid strides. Yet, with the Navin Pattnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) maintaining a firm grip on power, the BJP has had to remain content with being second best.
There are other states like Arunchal Pradesh and Tripura in the northeast where tribespeople are in a majority and have installed BJP regimes. Even in Gujarat, tribals constitute a sizeable 15 % of the population.
Not just the BJP, even its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), has also consistently focused on engaging with the tribal segment of the population through its organization Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram.
Pramod Petkar of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram said the aim of the organization was to better the lot of tribal sections, and ensure the protection of their rights and access to education and employment. The organisation’s “work continues regardless of who is in power,” he said.
Political observer LK Kundan, who teaches political science at Ranchi University, said opposition parties, mainly the JMM, was successful to spread a sentiment among tribals that BJP government would grab their lands after state government trying to amend land laws. “Besides, JMM somewhere convinced people that Jharkhand is a tribal-dominated state but it is ruled by a man from Chhattisgarh,” he said.