Changing equations

Published : Apr 24, 2009 00:00 IST

in Ranchi

JHARKHAND may be lagging behind in terms of social and development indices, but since its formation in November 2000 the State has been far ahead in political fragmentation. Parties and leaders have split, regrouped and split again as a matter of routine in the past eight years. Such has been the fissiparous process that the State has seen six Chief Ministers so far. That the tenures of the Chief Ministers have been interspersed with fairly long stints of Presidents Rule underscores the scope and depth of political inconsistency in the State. This enduring trend of political fragmentation gets reflected in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections on April 16 and 23 to elect 14 members.

The campaigns of various parties and formations in the State are not dictated by any single issue. Regional factors and concerns dominate individual constituencies. Jharkhand faces a significant threat posed by Maoist groups, but even that has not become an electoral issue despite the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliances (NDA) attempt to bring up internal security as a major campaign plank. The worsening economic situation of the common people is indeed a point of discussion across constituencies. The failed industrialisation drives of successive NDA and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) governments in the State and the Centre are recalled in this context. The refrain that economic hardships are an unchanging fact of life is something that reverberates across the State.

In the last Lok Sabha elections too, held in 2004, the state of the economy was a major point but from a different perspective. The campaign for those polls was dominated by the NDAs India Shining campaign, and the electorate came together to give a thrashing to that misplaced projection. A group of secular parties, consisting of the Jharkhand Mukthi Morcha (JMM), the Congress, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Communist Party of India (CPI), swept the polls by winning 13 of the 14 seats (Congress six, JMM four, RJD two and CPI one). The combination was so effective that the CPI wrested the Hazaribagh seat from the then Union Minister Yashwant Sinha of the BJP. The BJP had to be content with the Koderma seat, which was won by the States first Chief Minister, Babulal Marandi.

Much has changed in this balance of forces over the past five years. Both the secular combination and the NDA have succumbed to factious tendencies. The secular combination was the first to come apart. It broke in January 2005 when the Congress and the JMM rustled up an alliance between themselves for the February 2005 Assembly polls. The two parties left out their partners such as the RJD and the Lok Janshakthi Party (LJP) in the UPA, as also the Left parties. This led to the return of the BJP-led NDA to power in the State. However, in May 2006, the BJP suffered a jolt when Marandi quit the party and formed his own regional outfit, the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM). He also quit his Lok Sabha seat, forcing a re-election in November 2006, which he won with a majority of 1,94,000 votes. At the national level, the JVM has been a consistent partner of the non-Congress, non-BJP formation since its formation.

Immediately after the 2005 Assembly defeat, there were pronouncements from many a secular leader, including Congress stalwart M. Veerappa Moily and RJD chief Lalu Prasad, about a new resolve to stay together in future elections. The run-up to the 2009 polls shows that these leaders have short memories. The Congress and the JMM have again joined hands, leaving out the RJD, the LJP and the Left parties. The RJD and the LJP have formed their own front while the Left parties are working out adjustments in a few seats.

That a divided secular grouping would certainly help the BJP and the NDA was evident in the 2005 Assembly polls itself. The JMM won 17 seats in the 81-member Assembly while the Congress won nine. The vote share of the two parties was 14.29 per cent and 12.05 per cent respectively. The RJD won six seats with 8.48 per cent of the votes. Two other secular parties, the LJP and the CPI, had vote shares of 3.17 per cent and 1.8 per cent respectively, though they did not win any seat. The NDAs components, the BJP and the Janata Dal (United), won 30 and six seats respectively with a vote share of 23.57 per cent and 4 per cent. The division of secular votes helped the NDA march ahead in 2005.

But, in spite of this technical advantage, the BJP and the NDA are not that confident. The reason is that this grouping is also riven with problems. To start with, the Jharkhand unit of the BJP is fighting a general election for the first time without the help of the charismatic Babulal Marandi. This handicap has been compounded by the revolt in the party. The BJPs ground-level activists accuse the leadership of having given in to the demands of the JD(U). On a couple of occasions, hundreds of BJP workers, led by legislators Satyanand Bhokta and Ravindra Rai, locked the main gate of the State party headquarters in Ranchi when party leaders were at a meeting inside.

Central to the BJP activists resentment is the party leaderships decision to allot the Chattra and Palamau seats to the JD(U). The BJP had won these two seats in 1999 and lost them in the 2004 elections. Party activists feel the BJP has a rightful claim to the seats, and, moreover, the local party organisation had reared powerful candidates over the past five years.

Sections of the State BJP leadership agree with this contention, but bewail that the equations within the NDA has become so lopsided nationally that the party is forced to accommodate the demands of its allies. We have been losing political allies one after the other over the past two years. From the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) to the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) to the Trinamool Congress, allies have left us. In this context, the central leadership was keen to retain the JD(U). Hence the adjustments, said a senior Jharkhand BJP leader to Frontline.

The JD(U), despite gaining new seats to contest, has problems of its own. The general expectation within the party was that the Chattra seat would be given to the popular former Assembly Speaker Indersingh Namdhari. But instead the party leadership chose Arun Yadav, who had recently joined the party after leaving the BJP. Namdhari, who is now contesting as an independent, poses a challenge to all the major parties in the fray.

The individual dominance of candidates is similarly felt in Koderma and Rajmahal. Marandi is the front-runner in Koderma while his former colleague Stephen Marandi is way ahead in the campaign at Rajmahal. JMM chief Shibu Soren, who faced an ignominious defeat in the byelection to the Tamar Assembly seat in January, is contesting both the byelection to the Jamatara Assembly seat and the Lok Sabha election. He is contesting from the Dumka Lok Sabha constituency, a seat he won in 2004. Soren vacated the Chief Ministers post he had occupied in August 2008 after his defeat in Tamar.

Overall, observers are of the view that the political fragmentation that has characterised the States history will get reflected in the results. As former BJP Chief Minister Arjun Munda told Frontline, any seat is a gain for the BJP and the NDA as it had nothing when the 15th Lok Sabhas tenure came to a close.

The NDA hopes for a 50-50 result, but objective assessments put the Congress-JMM alliance marginally ahead, with the Third Front making an impressive beginning in the State with a couple of seats.

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