The BJP has lost power in five States since last year as an alliance of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal crossed the half-way mark when votes of the Jharkhand Assembly election were counted on Monday.
BJP leaders went into a huddle after the results showed that the party would not be returning to power. Much of the initial assessment of the loss centred on the party’s internal problems and rebellion against outgoing Chief Minister Raghubar Das, the lack of allies against a strong Opposition alliance and the now-routine under-performance of the State unit in the Assembly election compared with the Lok Sabha polls.
Quite in the manner of Maharashtra, Mr. Das had his way with the candidate list, ensuring that 13 of the 37 sitting MLAs were dropped, inducting many turncoats and setting off factional confrontations before the polls. When the results came in, Mr. Das, too, lost his seat — Jamshedpur East — to Saryu Rai, his erstwhile Cabinet colleague. “His personal unpopularity and inability to take the [State] unit along cost us dear,” a senior BJP leader said.
It was, however, ill-advised attempts by Jharkhand’s first non-tribal Chief Minister to change the land acquisition policy by amending the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act that polarised tribal people and others in the State, and gave the Opposition a big issue.
“The amendments were opposed with such ferocity that Governor Draupadi Murmu was forced to send it back to the government and the Bills were withdrawn. That started the build-up of an atmosphere that led to the voting out of the current Chief Minister,” the BJP leader said.
The Opposition got an issue, and despite the washout in the Lok Sabha polls, stuck to local issues in the Assembly election to romp home.
The BJP’s failure to tie up with its ally, the All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU), has also come at significant cost — in at least 10 seats, the combined votes of the BJP and AJSU candidates were more than the number polled by the winning candidate.
The logic given for not finalising a seat-sharing arrangement was a supposed assessment by the BJP that going it alone would be more beneficial than tying up with the AJSU. It was pointed out that in Maharashtra, the alliance with the Shiv Sena had angered some BJP hopefuls who were eyeing seats handed over to the ally.
The large number of rebel candidates in Maharashtra and its effect on the BJP’s final tally were cited as examples in Jharkhand. In the final event, however, the rebellion sparked by Mr. Das’s culling of sitting MLAs negated any such advantage.
Modi ‘Yes’, Das ‘No’
With the loss in Jharkhand, the BJP has lost its fifth recent Assembly election, though it won an extraordinarily strong mandate in the Lok Sabha election during the period.
The question that arises is why did the party do well in the Lok Sabha election and not in the Assembly elections. Political scientist Rahul Verma said, “Prime Minister Modi as an extraordinary vote aggregator is an advantage that the State units do not have.”
“In national polls, it’s Prime Minister Modi versus the rest. In the States, Opposition parties have realised that Mr. Modi cannot be made the face; the local unit is the face of the BJP and can be taken on more easily especially with alliances,” he said.
Mr. Verma said that while national issues had been on the back burner in the polls, the handling of the economy, shutting down of industries and resultant unemployment were a factor. “That is a hint that the BJP would do well to heed,” he added.