A test and a chance: On Jharkhand polls


BJP’s poll machine will be tested in Jharkhand, giving the Congress a chance to return

After Haryana and Maharashtra, Jharkhand is the third State in which the BJP will be seeking a second consecutive term in government following its victory in the Lok Sabha election earlier in the year. The party will indeed draw lessons from Haryana and Maharashtra, where it underperformed, even if without disastrous results. It focused entirely on nationalist issues such as Article 370 and the Modi government’s strident posture towards Pakistan, but the strategy’s electoral dividends were not enough for an emphatic victory in either State. Given a rap on the knuckles by the electorate, the BJP reportedly plans to repurpose its campaign strategy by including local issues and acknowledging particular social factors and candidate profiles. However, this is not easy for a party that wants to divert attention from development and livelihood issues by highlighting grand narratives. The Congress, despite its recent above-expectations electoral showing, is still not an inspiring fulcrum for allies or a magnetic alternative to the BJP in the eyes of voters. The Assembly poll offers a new opportunity for the Congress; and a fresh test for the BJP’s mega poll machine.

Jharkhand has a significant tribal population and 28 of the 81 Assembly seats are reserved for them. Along with Chhattisgarh, the State of Jharkhand was formed in 2000, fulfilling a long-standing demand of tribal groups, by the Vajpayee government. The BJP politics subsequently has been less sympathetic to tribal aspirations, starkly demonstrated in the appointment of non-tribal Chief Ministers in both States. Raghubar Das, the first non-tribal CM of the State is also the first one to complete a five-year term, but his administrative measures have also given him an anti-tribal image. The BJP’s mobilisation model hinges on aggregating voters without appealing to their tribal identity. The Sangh Parivar politics has encouraged a divide between Christian and non-Christian tribals. Lynch mobs that target Muslims, tribals and Dalits have thrived in Jharkhand, sometimes cheered on by BJP leaders. The challenge for the Congress is to attempt a big tent coalition of social groups through alliances and internal mechanisms. It cannot lose any time in firming up an electoral understanding with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, if it is serious about confronting the BJP. There are unique development challenges that remain unresolved in Jharkhand, despite its formation as a separate State two decades ago. The Assembly election campaign is an appropriate opportunity to bring these issues to the forefront.

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Printable version | Dec 10, 2019 4:19:13 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/a-test-and-a-chance/article29872354.ece

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