Jharkhand stayed true to its reputation. Like ever since its formation in 2000, a clear majority evaded any single party. The JMM-Congress-RJD alliance defeated the BJP, setting the stage for the return of Hemant Soren as Chief Minister.
The state also retained the tradition of defeating the party in power. The BJP’s Raghubar Das, who stayed as Chief Minister for five years, a record in a state where no regime had managed to complete its term, lost to Saryu Rai, who was a minister in his government, on his turf, Jamshedpur East. When Soren was Chief Minister, he too had lost the election. This time, he won from Barhait, but lost from Dumka.
Hemant Soren stepped out of his father Shibu Soren’s shadow to lead the opposition alliance with the Congress and the RJD, in the first election fought under his leadership. The BJP’s defeat in Jharkhand comes close on the heels of disappointments in Maharashtra and Haryana, where the results failed to meet expectations. The party’s top leadership, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, had campaigned extensively in the state, highlighting issues like the Ram temple, in light of the Supreme Court verdict, and the Citizenship Amendment Act.
The opposition focused on local issues in a state where the Tribals called ‘sarnas’ constitute 26 per cent of the population and 28 seats are reserved for them. But Soren managed to take the JMM beyond its traditional support base of Tribals, showing flexibility in stitching up an alliance.
Das, the first non-Tribal Chief Minister in the state, had antagonised large sections of the indigenous people with his policies and legislation, which were seen to be diluting the land rights of Tribals. He is the third Chief Minister, appointed under the Modi regime, after Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra and Manohar Lal Khattar in Haryana, under whom the party has failed to make it to the magic number. For the BJP, a victory in Jharkhand would have raised the party’s spirits ahead of elections in Delhi and Bihar next year.
The BJP views the defeat in Jharkhand as reflective of regional issues and not national ones, underscoring that Modi’s popularity remained undented. In the Lok Sabha elections this summer, the BJP had won over 50 per cent votes in the state. But Modi’s appeal clearly is not enough to deliver in states. Given its waning clout in state Assemblies, the BJP may be pushed to rework to strategy. “We respect the mandate given by the people of Jharkhand. We express our heartfelt gratitude to the people for the opportunity given to the BJP to serve the state for five years. The BJP will remain committed to the development of the state. To all the workers who worked tirelessly, I would like to extend my gratitude,” BJP chief Amit Shah said after the defeat in Jharkhand.
Hemant Soren, the youngest Chief Minister in his first term, is now faced with the challenge of keeping his ambitious promise on 67 per cent reservation to SCs, STs and OBCs and ensuring that the alliance lasts a full five-year term. In his earlier term, he had brought in progressive policies like reservation of 50 per cent of government jobs for women.
This election also came as a disappointment to independents and smaller parties like the AJSU and JVM, which had hoped to emerge as kingmaker in the event of a hung verdict. Sudesh Mahato’s AJSU had parted ways with the BJP, to fight its own battle. Rai was among the 13 BJP MLAs who were denied tickets. The AJSU had supported the BJP when it won 37 seats in the last Assembly election.
For once in Jharkhand, the kingmakers are out of the race.