Urban-rural divide, disgruntled regional allies sparked poll reversal in Jharkhand
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may rue the hubris it has shown in the aftermath of the 2019 national election. After its thumping victory in the national election, the BJP sought to re-negotiate a more favorable relationship with smaller coalition partners in various states. This has left the BJP’s coalition partners angry. The Shiv Sena in Maharashtra walked out of an alliance with the BJP and joined hands with its opposition. The All Jharkhand Students’ Union (AJSU) was so incensed that it scrapped its pre-poll alliance with the BJP — one of the factors that caused the BJP to fall to a crushing defeat in the 2019 Jharkhand state election.
In terms of vote share, the BJP performed similarly. In 2019, the BJP received an average seatwise vote share of 34.1% over the 79 seats it contested. In 2014, it had received a nearly identical average seatwise vote share of 34.6% over the 72 seats in contested. The difference was that last time its chief opposition — the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and the Congress — fought the elections separately. The opposition joined forces, and added the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), netting an average seatwise vote share of 35.9%. That difference of less than 2 percentage points in BJP and opposition average vote share made all the difference.
The BJP required more vote share per seat, which it could have gotten had it kept its alliance with AJSU. If we simply add the seatwise vote shares of AJSU and BJP (i.e., assuming a perfect transfer of votes), then the BJP-AJSU combine would have won 39 seats — near the 41 needed to form government across Jharkhand’s 81 seats. Of course, the BJP and AJSU may not have transferred votes cleanly, but the BJP-AJSU alliance likely still would have been close to coming to power.
The effect of the JMM-Congress-RJD alliance is most apparent in scheduled tribe (ST) areas. Jharkhand has a significant ST population with 28 constituencies reserved for candidates from the ST community. In these 28 ST-reserved constituencies, the BJP won only 2 seats — whereas in 2014 the BJP-AJSU alliance won 13 (the same number as the JMM whose voter base is supposed to be the ST community). In these reserved constituencies, the average seatwise vote share of JMM-Congress-RJD alliance swelled to 43.1%, whereas the BJP’s remained at 33.0%.
What explains this marked difference in performance between the BJP and its opposition in ST areas? First, the ruling BJP-AJSU coalition sought to amend land tenancy laws for ST communities, creating a panic in many areas and preventing consolidation of ST votes for the BJP. Second, the BJP’s historical partner AJSU is a party that is popular among the Kurmi population, meaning that there was a large reservoir of ST voters residing with both the Congress and the JMM, and these votes transferred seamlessly with them in alliance. To underscore the point, a regression analysis that looks at the strike rate of the BJP as a function of the percentage of STs in the AC (irrespective of reservation status) shows that as the percentage of STs in an assembly constituency (AC) grows to around 50%, there is about a 20 percentage point gap in predicted strike rates of the party (figure 1). Put simply, the chances of the BJP winning a seat fall with rising ST population.
Given the demographic bases of support for parties in Jharkhand, it is, of course, reasonable to expect the BJP to fare poorly in ST areas. Surprisingly, the BJP lost a number of high profile urban seats too — like the two ACs of Jamshedpur (one of which which was lost by outgoing chief minister Raghubir Das). This is borne out by another regression analysis that uses satellite data, provided by Shamindra Roy at the Centre for Policy Research, to characterize the proportion of the land in an AC that can be classified as high-density growth (figure 2).
This confirms significant loss in the BJP’s strike rate in more urban areas — even though it has done better in urban than rural areas. In ACs in which more than 50% of the land is classified as urban, the BJP has lost 30-40 percentage points in its strike rate. The reasons for this aren’t very clear but it could be frustration over the economic situation in the country.
Together, the rural (the ST issue) and urban challenges may have been too much for the BJP to deal with – in the absence of an ally.
While the BJP has emerged as the dominant party at the national level, the results in Jharkhand further demonstrate that cannot simply disregard its coalition partners if it is to win at the state level. It is time for serious introspection for the party, as it heads into important contests in Delhi and Bihar.