As Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) leader Hemant Soren was sworn-in on Sunday for his second term as State Chief Ministe r in a function attended by an array of leaders from nationwide Opposition parties, the symbolism was unmistakeable. Following the heavy losses in the 2019 Lok Sabha election that cemented the Bharatiya Janata Party as the hegemonic force in Indian politics, there have been three major State Assembly elections, in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand. While the BJP fell short of a majority in Haryana and was denied a return to power in Maharashtra due to its pre-election ally, the Shiv Sena, changing coalitions, it was in Jharkhand that the party faced a decisive defeat. The JMM-Congress-Rashtriya Janata Dal coalition bagged 47 of the 81 Assembly seats largely due to a clear mandate against the Raghubar Das-led BJP, especially from the State’s tribal and rural voters even as some urban voters also switched allegiance to the former. The previous regime had earned itself unpopularity by trying to tweak tenancy and land-holding laws, raising fears among tribals of land displacement. It is noteworthy that the first decision of Mr. Soren’s cabinet was to drop all cases registered against those who were involved in protests in 2017 — termed the Pathalgadi movement — over these pieces of legislation. This was clearly a nod to those voters who had registered their dissent with the previous regime by voting against it.
Mr. Soren and his cabinet face a humongous task in addressing socio-economic concerns in the State which suffers from high rates of poverty and unemployment. Jharkhand has the dubious distinction of registering starvation deaths in recent years, with food production and scarcity a major concern. The failure in welfare delivery by the previous regime was largely due to its focus on streamlining welfare by weeding out fake beneficiaries through the flawed use of the Aadhaar biometrics rather than universalising and expanding the Public Distribution System and ensuring that schemes such as the Integrated Child Development Services and mid-day meals for children are better implemented. Without a thoroughgoing emphasis on rural and tribal welfare, Jharkhand will not attain its developmental goals. The coalition government can take lessons from Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh in the north and the southern States in using welfare models to improve development indices. Its other challenge is that the State is among those in the country which have low GSDP growth (especially in employment-intensive sectors) and high government debt ratios. With a rich mineral base, governments have been tempted in the past to utilise this for development but have ended up being wracked by corruption, rent seeking and poor resource capacities. The JMM-led coalition should reorient itself to the original premise of the movement that led to the formation of Jharkhand in the first place — bringing in a sustainable development model that benefits the people rather than being saddled by the resource curse.