The BJP-AJSU alliance won 12 of 14 Lok Sabha seats and polled 55.3 per cent votes, while the UPA won only two seats and polled 34.6 per cent votes.
While one can’t deny the credit Jharkhand’s chief minister Raghubar Das deserves for being the only CM to have completed his full term in office, that is no real indication of the BJP’s electoral prospects in the state for the coming Assembly elections. In fact, the BJP seems to be on a slippery ground having failed to form an alliance with any of the regional parties. On the other hand, the Congress-JMM and the Rashtriya Janata Dal have managed to form an alliance to fight against the BJP. The parting of ways between the BJP’s erstwhile NDA allies – the JD(U), Lok Janshakti Party and the All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU) -- would adversely affect the BJP’s electoral prospects in the elections starting November 30. Clearly, the recent electoral verdicts in Haryana and Maharashtra seem to have had some impact on these NDA alliance partners, who decided to contest independently and not as part of the NDA alliance.
While all new governments formed in Jharkhand after the 2000, 2005 and 2009 Assembly elections saw frequent changes in government and frequent changes in the chief ministership, the BJP in alliance with the AJSU managed to successfully complete its full term in the government formed after the 2014 polls, even though these two together had only 42 seats in the 81-member Assembly. The BJP-AJSU managed to govern the state without much difficulty as the Opposition was badly divided, with the JMM having 19 members, JVM(P) with eight and Congress with six members in the Assembly. Even though before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress, JMM, JVM and RJD came together and formed an alliance against the BJP-AJSU alliance, these four parties together couldn’t halt the victory march of the BJP, which swept the whole of North India. The BJP-AJSU alliance won 12 of 14 Lok Sabha seats and polled 55.3 per cent votes, while the UPA won only two seats and polled 34.6 per cent votes.
While the BJP-AJSU managed to increase its support base enormously in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, that should not be seen as an indicator of how people are likely to vote in the Assembly elections. The 2019 Lok Sabha polls were largely contested on the national issues, in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is hard to imagine that Jharkhand’s people would vote in the same way in the state polls.
There are two indicators to suggest that the BJP won’t find it easy in the coming elections. First, the BJP did very well even in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, winning 12 of 14 seat and polling 40 per cent votes; but soon after that its voteshare went down to 31.8 per cent, and it managed to win only 37 of the 72 Assembly seats. Seen in terms of votes per seat contested, the BJP polled 35.7 per cent votes, a decline of about 3-4 per cent compared to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Perhaps, the verdict in the 2014 Assembly polls in Jharkhand may have been different if the Opposition had formed an alliance. In as many as 14 seats (2014 Assembly), the combined vote share of the Congress and JMM, which fought against each other, was higher than the BJP-led alliance. There are thus clear signals of people voting differently in the 2014 Assembly and 2014 Lok Sabha polls, held one after another in a short span of time. Clearly, the Assembly elections were fought more on local issues.
Reports from the ground suggest that while the BJP is trying to focus on the national issues and the Centre’s flagship programmes, the JMM, Congress and other parties are trying to focus more on constituency-level local issues. What makes the BJP’s situation harder is that AJSU’s move to desert the BJP and contesting against it. As Haryana and many other Assembly elections since 2014 have indicated, sharp vote swings between the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls cannot be ruled out here as well.
The Jharkhand polls will be another test of the BJP’s ability to overcome state-level anti-incumbency. While BJP has a massive success rate in winning state elections after 2014, in recent years, its record of success has not been as spectacular as it was immediately after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. In Gujarat, the BJP just about managed to win a simple majority with its tally of seats below three digits. Most recently, in Haryana and Maharashtra, it emerged as the single largest party but is still short of a majority. While it managed to form the government in Haryana in alliance with the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP), it is still struggling in Maharashtra.
In a state with a very large adivasi population, the electoral verdict rests heavily on 25 Assembly seats, where adivasis constitute a majority of the electorate. In the 2014 election, these seats were split between the BJP (11 seats) and the JMM (12 seats).
Data from surveys conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) indicates the support base of parties are divided across caste communities. During the 2014 Assembly elections, support for the BJP came mostly from the upper castes, OBCs, and certain tribal groups. It received 50 per cent and 40 per cent votes among the upper castes and OBCs respectively. Adivasi voters, the numerically predominant social group in the state (nearly 27 per cent) were almost equally split between the BJP (30 per cent) and the JMM (29 per cent) in 2014. While almost half (47 per cent) of the Oraons voted for the BJP, the JMM retained support (40 per cent) among its traditional Santhal support base. The Congress was a distant third among all social groups, except Muslims, who form a miniscule proportion of state’s electorate. The Congress had failed to win any seat which are adivasi majority seats, but it secured 10.8 per cent of the votes. Its success in transferring votes to its alliance partners in these seats could be the critical factor in this election.
Even though the Opposition parties may not have registered any major success in putting up a challenge to the BJP, but the narrative seems to have shifted little bit. The question is: Will this help the Opposition? Will voters cast their ballots over local issues or get swayed over national issues like Ram Mandir and/or by the recent developments in Kashmir?