Hours ahead of counting of votes in the five-phase Assembly polls in Jharkhand, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appeared to be confident of securing a majority.

However, going by the capricious and highly volatile nature of the political drama that has unfolded in the region since it separated from Bihar in 2000, several regional factors and strong individual personalities are expected to play significant parts.

“I am confident that an NDA government will be formed tomorrow,” said State President Janata Dal (United) Jaleshwar Mahto while refuting claims that the NDA alliance, which had ruled the State for six of the nine years, had caused as much damage as the United Progressive Alliance.

Mr. Mahto told The Hindu, that “the intelligentsia as well as the poor classes had digested the fact that incalculable damage has been caused to the State by Independents supported by the UPA government.”

Brushing off implications of a declining vote share of the BJP in Jharkhand since the 2004 Lok Sabha polls, State president Raghubar Das said that the “BJP would garner 40-41 seats while the JD (U) would secure 5-6 seats tomorrow, which would obviate the need to approach other parties.”

The party’s vote share has seen a steady decline from 33 per cent in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls (when it won just one seat) to 27.53 per cent in 2009, when it incidentally won 8 seats. Of the 81 seats, the BJP is contesting 67 and its alliance partner JD (U) 14.

The BJP is also relying heavily on strong sentiments against the Congress’ inability to put a tight rein on the soaring prices of essential commodities to win the day for them.

“Our party’s manifesto to provide wheat and sugar at the rate of Rs. 1 a kg has had resonance at the grass roots level,” said Mr. Das.

However, Congress State unit president Pradeep Balmuchu said that the BJP had grossly overstretched its expectations by “backing too heavily on the UPA-Koda link.”

Mr. Balmuchu, a three-time winner from his constituency, Ghatsila, and one of the forerunners in the race for the Chief Minister’s post, is locked in a three-cornered combat with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’s (JMM) Ramdas Soren , the All-Jharkhand Students’ Union (AJSU) candidate Surya Singh Besra, who is contesting on the BJP ticket and the AJSU candidate Kanu Samant.

Mr. Shibu Soren is playing a “wait and watch” game with both the Congress and the BJP, while toying with the ambitious idea of launching a “third front” with the RJD-LJP combine and the Left parties.

Union Minister for Food Processing and the Congress aspirant for the Chief Minister’s post, Subodh Kant Sahay, said that “the JMM and the RJD have traditionally been constituent arms of the UPA government.”

Feelers to Soren

On feelers being sent to the JMM by the BJP, Mr. Das said “the party would not need the support of other regional players tomorrow, yet it was willing to accommodate like-minded parties within its fold.”

The “Marandi factor” is another element that is expected to play a crucial role in the fate of both the parties.

The BJP leaders feel that the defection of erstwhile Chief Minister Babulal Marandi, who now heads the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM), to the Congress fold will not disturb its chances in the long run as most of Mr. Marandi’s loyal followers had ostensibly “ditched him” for his “opportunism”.

Observers said that in the event of a hung Assembly, politicians from the Singhbhum region like the former Chief Minister Arjun Munda and the former Deputy Chief Minister, Sudhir Mahto, are expected to play influential roles in any political bargaining after the results.

Individuals will play an important role in vote garnering as in the case of the former Deputy Chief Minister and independent legislator, Mr. Stephen Marandi, who is touted to win the Dumka seat, from where he is contesting on a Congress ticket.

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