The electoral process in Jharkhand assumes significance on four counts. Firstly, the myth of BJP’s indispensability in forming the government has been effectively shattered. Secondly, unlike elections in Maharashtra and Haryana where the BJP was expected to sail smoothly, the electoral history of Jharkhand has been checkered as no party or pre-poll alliance has ever got a majority since the first assembly election in 2005. Thirdly, while the opposition parties in the state are a divided lot, BJP too failed to find any ally, besides facing factionalism and dissidence from within. Fourthly, these factors not only raised questions on what many called the beginning of a new, one-party dominance phase post-2014, but also re-energised interest in state electoral politics.
The political history of Jharkhand since its formation in November 2000 has been marked by three factors: the synchronization of five administrative regions with distinct cultural histories and specific demography; unlike neighboring states of UP and Bihar, the state witnessing the absence of a caste or community acting as the regional anchor; and assembly election witnessing the presence of multiple parties and leaders divided along the lines of inclusive-development vs. ethnic-rhetoric, with their specific sphere of influences in varying degrees.
Thus, Palamu sub-region has relatively less tribal population, while the Brahmin, and OBC castes like Kahaars and Yadavs are in good numbers along with Dalits. Notably, RJD has a significant support base here. On the other hand, in North Chhota Nagpur sub-region, comprised of districts like Dhanbad, Hazaribagh etc., the OBC Kurmi caste dominate the region besides, Rajput, Yadavs and Muslims. This also happens to be the core-support base of AJSU party. Similarly, the Santhal Pargana sub-region is dominated by Santhal tribes and Brahmins, Bhumihars, Yadavs, Sudi-Banias and Muslims following suit.
Politically, the region is considered to be the stronghold of JMM while Babulal Marandi’s JVM(P) and Congress also have some traction. Here, AJSU is an insignificant player leaving BJP to mobilize the upper caste and a section of OBC using the plank of development, anti-tribal consolidation and Hindutva.
Then, in South Chhota Nagpur sub-region, the Munda and Oraon tribes constitute the dominant demography along with a significant Christian Tribal population. Ex-CM and BJP senior leader Arjun Munda hails from this region. Lastly, the Kolhan subregion comprised of East Singhbhum, West Singhbhum and Saraikella Kharswan districts have the dominance of Ho tribe whose prominent leader happens to be ex-CM Madhu Koda, who is with Congress now. Politically, the region is dominated by the Congress and the BJP.
BJP: The scenario is not encouraging for the party given the fact that apart from the main political parties — national (Congress and BJP) and regional (JMM and JVM-P and AJSU party) — which adopt the inclusive language of development for all by offering a collective Jharkhandi identity framework, the smaller parties like Jharkhand Disom Party (JDP), Jharkhand Janadhikar Party (JJP), Jharkhand People’s Party (JKPP), Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Secular) (JVM-S), and Jharkhand Party (JKP) offer a pro-tribal and pro-moolnivasi narrative vis-à-vis the others. Independent leaders still matter in the state for their ability to guarantee votes among caste/communities from specific pockets. The AJSU party which is contesting on its own may not have the notable electoral clout, in the North Chhota Nagpur sub-region, but is likely to damage BJP more than others.
The BJP is also facing acute internal factionalism between the tribal and non-tribal leadership, mainly between old rivals — senior tribal leader Arjun Munda and CM Raghubar Das, an OBC. Thirdly, the party is facing strong rebellion by senior leaders, most notably Saryu Rai, a minister in the previous government.
The Opposition: The Congress-JMM-RJD alliance has failed to create a regional electoral narrative by not capitalising on the anti-incumbency factor. Rather, they are dependent upon the traditional support base of different tribal and non-tribal communities. Parties like JVM(P) are being seen as a move to damage the prospect of opposition by cutting into Santhal and other votes.
Issues: It is certain that contemporary issues are likely to have a negative bearing upon the electoral prospects of the ruling BJP. In fact, attempts to amend century-old Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act (CNT) and the Santhal Paragana Tenancy Act (SPT), which bar authorities from acquiring land from the tribal community has its takers among a section of them. Further, the bad state of infrastructure, job cuts for the post of para teachers, and the closure of a number of small and medium industries...will be significant electoral issues.
Therefore, the argument that post-2019 votes are decoupled from economic issue doesn’t hold ground in Jharkhand. In fact, we are witnessing the increasing competitiveness of politics in the states and re-emergence of economic issues as electorally relevant, despite BJP’s dominance at Centre.