The Jharkhand Verdict

The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) led alliance managed to sweep the Assembly elections in the state, earlier this week. The party recorded its best-ever performance with 30 MLAs.

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JMM leader Hemant Soren

The key junior ally of the JMM, the Congress, bagged 16 seats, while the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) got only one seat. The All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU), a former BJP ally fought these elections on its own and managed to win two seats. The BJP won 25 seats in the state, which is in stark contrast to its performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) swept the state in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, had margin in 63 assembly constituencies (ACs) out of the 81 in the state, and helped them to bag 12 out of the 14 Lok Sabha seats.

Regardless of the JMM-led Mahagathbandhan (JMM-Congress-RJD) that swept the state, BJP has improved its vote share to 33.37 per cent from 31.26 per cent of 2014 Assembly election. The vote share of the JMM has declined to 18.72 per cent from 20.43 per cent in the 2014 election.

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BJP’s Dilemma at the State Level

The BJP has managed to outshine its political opponents in the last two Lok Sabha elections with the magnitude of its victory. However, the party faces a massive turnaround, for the worst, when it comes to state assembly elections. The party has shown an uncanny inability to hold on to state governments when the elections assume a distinctly local flavour. This trend has continued to haunt the BJP since 2017, when in Gujarat, it somehow, managed to scrape through the combination of rural distress, a Patidar agitation, disenchantment on the Goods and Services Tax (GST).

Despite the high-voltage anti-incumbency factor, BJP could form the government in Gujarat for the sixth consecutive time.

Hemant Soren with Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi

Last year, the same trend was visible in the Assembly Elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. And again, it is to be noted that Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh had the same anti-incumbency factor played against the BJP. This year, despite the massive win in the Lok Sabha elections, the party was unable to sustain its performance in the elections in Haryana and Maharashtra. In Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar managed to return to power, after a post-poll alliance with Dushyant Chautala’s Jannayak Janta Party (JJP).

BJP did much better in Maharashtra, where it emerged as the single-largest party but the majority mark eluded them. With the exit of its ally in the state, Shiv Sena, BJP lost its chance of forming the government.

Triumph of the Local Issues

In these elections, the JMM and its allies managed to shrug off their abysmal performance in the Lok Sabha elections, where they managed to win only two of the 14 Lok Sabha elections. However, in these elections, the party rode high on forming smart alliances and a clear focus on local issues. In the face of a vociferous campaign led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the JMM and its allies based their campaign on a local narrative. In September 2018, the party began its campaign with the Sangharsh Yatra in five phases across the state. This helped JMM leader, Hemant Soren, not only to establish him as the leader of the opposition, but also gave him a solid background to understand and reflect on the local issues in the state. The Sangharsh Yatra was then later changed into a ‘Badlav Rally’ which went on for two months from the end of August to September. The party laid its emphasis on strong local issues confronting the state, namely, the Forest Rights Act and the linkage of Aadhaar with the Public Distribution System (PDS). The campaign successfully established Soren as a pan-state leader who could pull in the non-tribal voters in its fold as well.

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The JMM manifesto raised the general issues like that of unemployment and offered an unemployment allowance of INR 5,000 to 7,000 depending on the qualification.

Jharkhand Verdict—the Fallout

In its second stint in power, the Modi government can be described as being far more aggressive towards its ideological agenda than in the previous term. The decisions regarding the revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, and the recent adherence on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) have outshined the government’s focus on social welfare, infrastructure and administrative reforms. With the defeat in Jharkhand, the surge of the BJP is declining at the state levels. This, in effect, means that with a lesser number of states with the BJP, it will be tougher for the central government to implement its flagship schemes. This may also catapult an effect on the ideological front. This aspect is already visible with non-BJP governments rising against the CAA. The political reverses, coupled with the vehement protests and violence in the past weeks, have led many alliance partners to pitch against the BJP and the central government.

With the state elections due in the capital Delhi, in early 2020, it would be interesting to see what if the BJP can come out of its over-dependence on PM Modi for campaigning and putting a thrust on local and relevant issues like jobs, economy and infrastructure.