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Home / Assembly Elections / Tribal vote to local issues: Key factors that may sway Jharkhand results

Tribal vote to local issues: Key factors that may sway Jharkhand results

Will the state stick to this trend or elect a clear winner this time? Three important factors will decide this to a large extent.

assembly-elections Updated: Dec 11, 2019 08:24 IST
Roshan Kishore
Roshan Kishore
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Long queues at a polling booth in Mandar assembly seat during the second phase of Jharkhand Assembly Election, Dec 7, 2019.
Long queues at a polling booth in Mandar assembly seat during the second phase of Jharkhand Assembly Election, Dec 7, 2019.(HT Photo)

Jharkhand is in the midst of its fourth assembly election since the state was created in 2000. No single party has been able to win a majority on its own in previous assembly elections. Will the state stick to this trend or elect a clear winner this time? Three important factors will decide this to a large extent.

Tribal vs non-tribal

According to the 2011 Census, the share of Scheduled Tribes (ST) in Jharkhand’s total population was around 26%. However, this population is not distributed in a uniform manner.

In five out of 24 districts in the state — Khunti, Simdega, Gumla, West Singhbhum and Lohardaga — STs account for more than half of total population. In another five districts — Latehar, Dumka, Pakur, Ranchi and Saraikela — the STs have a more than one-third share in the total population. In six districts, namely Giridih, Palamu, Dhanbad, Hazaribag, Chatra and Kodarma, the ST population is less than 10%. These six districts alone have 24 assembly constituencies (ACs), while the ST majority districts have only 13 ACs. The number of ACs in districts where STs have a population share of at least one-third is 32, which is less than the half-way mark in an assembly of 81.


These numbers suggest that any attempt to create an ST polarisation can backfire if it creates a counter-polarisation of non-STs. When this reporter visited various parts of the state, this is exactly what the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seemed to be banking on. BJP supporters this reporter spoke to suggested that a return of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM)-led alliance to power would mean a concentration of power with the STs. Raghubar Das, the incumbent chief minister of the state, is the first non-ST politician to hold the office. North Chotanagpur region, which has the lowest ST population in the state, is the BJP’s biggest stronghold.

The ST versus non-ST conflict in the state is not just about representation, though. Among the non-STs, especially dominant castes in urban areas, there is a stereotyping of STs as being non-professional and hence inimical to the development of the state. Large parts of the ST population, on the other hand, are averse to succumbing to the so-called mainstream modernity. “STs do not need aarakshan (reservation), we need sanrakshan (preservation),” Nandlal Nayak, a music director and tribal activist, told this reporter in Ranchi.

Nayak’s views are similar to what Alpa Shah, an anthropologist at the London School of Economics, has argued in her book ‘In the Shadows of the State: Indigenous Politics, Environmentalism and Insurgency in Jharkhand, India’. “Contrary to assumptions about people’s participation in democratic practices, as put forward in much of the contemporary literature on democracy and good governance, Mundas ( an ST group in Jharkhand) supported an MLA in order to have less access to the processes of the state,” she writes.

Indeed, some STs in the state have decided to refuse state benefits to press for their issues. However, this does not mean that welfare gains and even intra-community tensions would not matter among ST voters in the state. Statistics from the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS)-Lokniti post-poll survey for the 2019 elections show that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had a significant lead over the JMM-led alliance among Hindu STs, while the latter had a big lead among Christians, a majority of whom are STs. What would matter most in the ultimate analysis is the ability of parties to mobilise a significant section of ST votes without triggering a counter to polarisation of non-ST votes in the state.

National vs local

Had the Jharkhand elections not been taking place after Haryana and Maharashtra, overwhelming opinion would have expected a BJP sweep in the state. The BJP and its ally All Jharkhand Students’ Party (AJSU) won 12 out of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in the state in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. However, both Haryana and Maharashtra results have underlined the emerging trend that the electorate could vote very differently. Despite doing well in these two states in the Lok Sabha polls, the BJP’s performance dipped in the assembly elections. The BJP is not the only party which has faced this differential treatment. The Congress, after having won Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh assembly elections in December 2018, could win only two Lok Sabha seats out of 65 in the 2019 general elections.

To be sure, Jharkhand maintained the national versus local distinction even in the 2014 assembly elections. The BJP had won 12 out of 14 Lok Sabha seats in the 2014 general elections, and it could win only 37 assembly constituencies in a house of 81 in the previous assembly elections. While these examples tell us that the electorate might vote differently in a national and local election, it is hazardous to speculate on what that direction might be.

What one can say safely is that the degree of anti-incumbency (or lack of it) is an important factor in determining this trend. A comparison of 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha results at the AC level can give some insight into this question. Of the 67 ACs where the BJP had a candidate in both 2014 and 2019 (the rest were contested by allies), it increased its 2014 vote share in 2019 in 64 ACs. This performance is supported by pro-incumbency for the Narendra Modi government in the CSDS Lokniti survey, where 76% of the respondents were satisfied with the central government’s performance and only 23% were unsatisfied. However, the BJP state government had relatively worse approval ratings, with 37% of respondents citing dissatisfaction, while 52% were satisfied. If these ratings dropped further, the BJP could see a large dip in its 2019 performance. When this reporter travelled to various parts of the state, it was clear that the chief minister’s popularity is nowhere close to the Prime Minister’s.

Two fence-sitters

AJSU and Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM) had 16 and 13 MLAs between the two of them in the 2009 and 2014 assembly elections in the state. AJSU was in a pre-poll alliance with the BJP in the 2014 assembly and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, but is contesting separately this time.

The alliance did not break down over seat sharing; the AJSU had ideological differences with the BJP, a group of AJSU activists told us in Ramgarh. When asked whether the AJSU will do business with the BJP after the results, they were non-committal. However, they were clear that they did not want the AJSU to join hands with the JMM. The JVM, which had contested as part of the JMM-Congress alliance in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, is also contesting separately this time. Six out of eight JVM MLAs had defected to the BJP in the last assembly. In Barkatta AC in Hazaribag district, Janaki Yadav was elected as a JVM MLA in 2014, but he later joined the BJP. He is contesting these elections on a BJP ticket, while Amit Yadav, who lost to Janaki Yadav by around 8,000 votes in the last election, is contesting on a JVM ticket this time. Both candidates are BJP as far as we are concerned, a group of villagers told us in the Barkatta market. “The JVM is a laboratory of the BJP, and it happily incorporates the former’s MLAs into its fold,” a Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) activist in the neighbouring Bagodar constituency told us.

In case the BJP emerges as the single largest party but falls short of a majority, the AJSU and JVM would probably tilt towards the BJP one way or the other, is the broad sense among the people HT spoke to in the state. If the JMM-led alliance wants to form the new government, it will have to exploit state level anti-incumbency to the hilt without triggering a counter-polarisation among the non-ST population of the state. Whether or not it has been able to do so would be known on December 23.

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