Blog: Jharkhand braces for election results on Monday
While exit polls have put JMM-Congress-RJD alliance ahead, all past assembly poll results have been fractured. BJP fell 4 short of majority in 2014 despite Modi wave. Will it be different this time?
Days after Jharkhand’s first chief minister Babulal Marandi quit the Bharatiya Janata Party, I spoke to him in Ranchi. He had landed from Delhi in the afternoon and I was waiting for him to arrive from the airport. I flippantly asked if he had called on the then Congress President Mrs Sonia Gandhi. Marandi looked irritated and replied in the negative. “Why should I meet her,” he asked with a frown.
With the carefree attitude of one who wasn’t looking for a ‘story’, I pressed ahead.
“Because Congress in Jharkhand today is a party without a leader while you are a leader without a party,” I retorted.
His face was clouded, I noticed, and he slowly shook his head.
“Never. I will not make the same mistake. As chief minister I was tired of travelling between Ranchi and Delhi with cash. Will Congress be different,” he asked.
This was almost a decade and a half ago. He had been the chief minister when NDA was in power at the Centre. But the BJP had replaced him mid-stream with Arjun Munda with no good reason except that a section of the MLAs had turned hostile and complained that he was not paying enough attention to them.
A concerted campaign was launched by BJP insiders to smear his reputation. His personal life was dragged in. His alleged affair with a much younger woman was fed to the media and his fondness for good things in life in general, and his proximity to Marwari businessmen in particular—so much so that he was snidely called Babulal Marwari—were alluded to.
But the fact was that BJP leaders then in Delhi treated the mineral rich Jharkhand as a cash cow. After Narendra Modi’s rise in the BJP, the importance of Jharkhand to the BJP as generator of funds, has substantially reduced. But between 2000, when the state was formed, and 2014, the state was milked for funds and favour.
That was the time when contractors from Hyderabad and financiers from Mumbai and brokers from Delhi would regularly fly to Ranchi.
Deals would be stuck, mining leases would be cancelled or renewed and ministers and MLAs would go on regular junkets to Singapore, Bangkok and even to European destinations and the USA.
Marandi that afternoon was in a reflective mood. He told me that Jharkhand was too small a state to accommodate the political interests and ambition of more than one national party and one regional party. But two national parties, BJP and the Congress, the three Left Parties, namely CPI, CPM and the CPI(ML) and a large number of splinter Jharkhand groups including Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU) were already in the fray. In addition, Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Mamata Banerjee’s AITC eyed areas in Jharkhand which were adjacent to Bihar and West Bengal. The Marxist Coordination Committee (MCC) founded by late A.K. Roy retained its influence in parts of Dhanbad and Bokaro.
All these parties had their pockets of influence and Marandi felt that there were too many political parties contesting elections. With the state a mad mix of different influences and over 30 tribes, the cauldron was just not designed for political stability, he felt. One national party and one regional party, he reckoned, would remain in the fray and others would disappear.
He clearly nursed ambitions of emerging as a regional satrap with his Jharkhand Vikas Morcha and replace Shibu Soren.
But politics in Jharkhand has not followed this script. Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) has not dissipated after the decline of Shibu Soren, who retains his god-like aura among the Santhals in the state.
Marandi’s party has not been able to replace the JMM yet and the Congress, though weakened, has not yet left the field. Nor have the splinter Jharkhand groups and smaller parties.
All this makes the task of predicting electoral outcomes in Jharkhand difficult. But as the state braces for results of the long-drawn election to be declared on Monday, December 23, exit polls have weighed in to suggest that BJP could be in trouble.
In any other state, the BJP would have been reconciled by now to sit in the opposition and pay the price for anti-incumbency, if not anything else. It has run the state for a long time. Add to it the inevitable corruption, poor governance and incompetence, and the writing on the wall would have been clearer.
But the weaknesses of the opposition alliance, cash-strapped compared to the BJP, may lead to yet another fractured mandate, as the exit polls are hinting at.
Or, is Jharkhand ready for the first time to give a decisive mandate? results of Assembly elections have always been fractured with no single party having ever won a majority on its own. With the majority mark in the Assembly with 81 seats being 41, BJP in 2014, despite the Modi wave, had bagged just 37 seats. Arguably, it should get fewer seats than last time.
But BJP, I am told by usual suspects, has a plan B and a plan C ready; that it would offer Marandi the chief minister’s chair if he manages to bag 10 odd seats and the BJP falls far short of the majority.
What is certain though is that BJP would do everything to retain power in the state. It is too rich in mineral resources for the party to let it go easily, unless voters reject it firmly and decisively.