Raghubar das led BJP government lost assembly elections in Jharkhand, the tribal heartland and also RSS ‘Hindutva´ laboratory. The election results not just mark the exit to the state’s first non-tribal CM but also a dent in BJP’s social engineering project. BJP’s defeat in one of its stronghold states has come as a shock to not just its supporters but for those who believed in the invincibility of Modi wave and Amit Shah’s “Chanakya Niti”.
Anti-incumbency, non-tribal CM, anti-tribal policies
Jharkhand tribal population is between 26-30%. Election results in ST reserved seats have shown that the Jharkhand Mukti morcha-Rashtriya Janata Dal- congress alliance (JMM-RJD-Congress) has won 25 out of 28 seats. Contrast this with the 2014 assembly elections when BJP got 11 out of 28 seats.
So what turned the tide?
Local journalists and activists have stated that there is deep anger and resentment against the Raghubar Das government that has pushed for laws to acquire tribal land. His attempts to change the tribal tenancy laws in 2017, which sought to dilute the protection the scheduled tribe had over their land, created a huge trust deficit for BJP in Jharkhand.
Jharkhand, means “the land of forests” the state in Eastern India was formed out of Bihar for tribal welfare in 2000. The region has been inhabited since the Mesolithic- chalcolithic period. Use of Iron started in this region as early as 1400 BC. The region was ruled by Maurya, Gupta, Pala, and several tribal kingdoms before coming under East India company under British rule. After the Independence of India, the region became part of Bihar state. The state is mineral rich but 40% of its population is below poverty line and 19% of its children malnourished, a typical story of India’s adivasi lands.
The Das government had brought two bills in 2017 to change the two tenancy acts-the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act (CNTA) and the Santhal Parganas Tenancy Act (SPTA)–to allow commercial use of tribal land. These laws protect tribal rights over their land and put restrictions on the acquisition and sale of tribal land. The move was largely seen as a pro-corporate and anti-tribal. The Congress-JMM led opposition along with the Church opposed the proposed amendments. Sensing the anger and criticism from the tribal community, the BJP had put the decision on hold before the Lok Sabha polls. But the damage was done.
These fears have led to a spate of protests and one significant movement called the ‘Pathalgarhi movement’ in 2018, whereby the tribals erected pathar (stones) plaques engraved with provisions of the Fifth Schedule in the constitution as an assertion of autonomy and independence from the Indian union. The Das government in a bid to suppress the movement filed FIRs against at least 10,000 people, many were still languishing in jail. In Khunti district alone, where the activist Dayamani Barla stood for elections on Jharkhand Vikas Morcha ticket, there were 23 FIRs, 19 of which involved sedition, kidnapping, rape, and other heinous charges mainly against tribal leaders. Some villages have also given a boycott call for elections by burying their Aadhar and voter IDs as a protest against police crackdown.
Mineral-rich states, such as Odisha, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand have been accruing forest land under Land Banks for use by corporates for years, often without the knowledge of any of the local forest-dwelling communities.
One can judge the impact of the tribal anger by the defeat of BJP state president Laxman Giluwa from a ST reserved seat. Giluwa was a vocal supporter of the police action against the people who participated in the Pathalgarhi movement.
Jharkhand is also the state with 20 cases of mob lynchings, highest in the country. CM’s ideological push on conversion and cow-related issues also did not go well with Hindu as well as Christian tribal communities.
Is the Modi wave waning?
While many are speculating that this is not a reflection on Modi magic but the result of an unpopular CM candidate. Modi is considered a charismatic speaker and Amit shah, a great election strategist. Both did 9 rallies each during the election campaign. These rallies were full of anti congress rhetoric and its “super” achievements of the scrapping of Article 370, Ayodhya and Ram temple. Some of these rallies were during the time when protests against CAA were going on. It was in one of these rallies that Modi spoke of “You can identify the arsonists from their clothes”. The protesters all across India included people of all religions. The statement clearly was aimed to target Muslims and to polarise the voters on religious lines.
But the results do not bode well on Modi and Shah’s image. BJP lost in 6 out of 9 seats that Modi campaigned and 7 out of 9 seats that Amit Shah campaigned.
Jharkhand election results also come amid popular nationwide protests against CAA and NRC. So it is a double setback to Modi Shah Jodi who were the main men behind this exercise.
Its too early to say that if Modi wave is receding, but definitely BJP arrogance and over-reliance on Kashmir, article 370 and Ram temple seem to have backfired. In this election also, it looks like the national issues did not resonate with the population mired with burning local issues of land rights and unemployment which was largely ignored in election rallies.
The results also consolidate the fact that people vote on local issues in Assembly elections as was seen in the case of Maharashtra and Haryana elections.