Backed by Popular Mandate Across Four States, BJP Sets Out to Upend Existing Caste Calculus

BJP leaders say it’s not a “game plan” where the dominant caste of the state was ignored for leaders of other caste, but “politics of development”

Published: 28th December 2014 06:04 AM  |   Last Updated: 28th December 2014 08:52 AM   |  A+A-


NEW DELHI:  On Sunday, when Jharkhand Chief Minister-designate Raghubar Das would take oath at Ranchi’s Birsa Munda football stadium, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah by his side, he would be the third BJP chief minister in as many months to overturn the existing conventions of the state politics.

Fifty-nine-year-old Das, an OBC, would be the first non-tribal chief minister in the state that came into being 14 years ago and saw nine tribal CMs at the helm.  As with Manohar Lal Khattar, a Punjabi chief minister in the Jat-dominated Haryana, and Devendra Fadnavis, a Brahmin chief minister in the Maratha-dominated politics of Maharashtra, in Jharkhand, too, the BJP has upturned the existing caste calculus.

BJP’s audacious attempt to install a Hindu chief minister in Muslim-dominated Jammu and Kashmir is currently halted by the fractured mandate in the state.

In all these four states, it was the BJP’s best ever poll performance since the party came into being 34 years ago that it has been able to pick candidates of its choice, mostly handpicked by Modi and Shah.  Party leaders claimed that the move may pay the party handsomely in the long run as the saffron party expands its reach across the country, and even prepare a second rung of leaders. Till the last count, the BJP in its online membership drive had enrolled over 2.20 crore members.

The reason that went into Das’s favour in Jharkhand could be two-fold. He was picked up by Amit Shah to be part of his team of national office bearers, thus showing Shah’s trust in him. Secondly, former chief minister Arjun Munda, also a tribal, who could have been a ‘natural’ choice for the BJP, had he not lost the elections.

 Ironically, almost all the former CMs and even deputy CMs, all tribals, lost the elections. Apart from Munda, former CMs Babulal Marandi, Madhu Koda, deputy CM Sudesh Mahato lost miserably. Even outgoing CM Hemant Soren lost from one of the two seats he contested.

A former deputy CM, Das, an employee with private company Tata Steels but on long leave, has been elected MLA five times.  Though he does not come with a Sangh background, like Khattar and Fadnavis, his elevation will send a strong signal to the Hindu population of the state.  Both Khattar and Fadnavis were also considered close to Modi.

Despite the BJP winning 37 seats (while its ally All Jharkhand Students Union won five), Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, a tribal party improved its performance over last elections to corner 19 seats  gathering 20.4 percent vote share, after BJP’s 31.3 per cent.

The BJP leaders are quick to point out that it’s not a “game plan” where the dominant caste of the state was being ignored to hoist leaders of other caste, but the “politics of development and governance.”

“Too much should not be read between the lines. There is no such game plan (as leaders of non-dominant castes were chosen as CMs). People are interested in issues of development and governance and not in the identity. The people do not mind leader of other caste as head of the government, if he delivers,” a senior national party leader said.

Party sources before the Jharkhand elections had pointed out that it was important to have a tribal CM in one state, because tribals constitute a significant community even in neighbouring states of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.

As the state opposition parties have already started questioning the choice of a non-tribal CM, the party would have to give suitable representation to tribals in the cabinet. Das can have 12 members in his cabinet.

Apart from the ‘development and good governance’ pitch of the BJP governments, its unabashed stance as being a representative of the Hindus has helped it improve its electoral performance, feel leaders. Leaders point out that communities which helped the party win in the state elections ought to be strongly represented in the government. This shows the strong pitch that “mandate” of the Hindu-dominated Jammu region played a role in Kashmir government. As did non-Jats that whole heartedly voted for BJP in Haryana giving majority for the first time; and Congress-dominated Vidharbha region gave thumbs up to BJP, thus improving chances of Fadnavis, who belongs to the region, apart from being close to Modi, get the top post.


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