Seven months ago, anyone from Jharkhand would have told you that though incumbent chief minister Raghubar Das was deeply unpopular, the voters were going to go with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who thus collected 12 of the 14 Lok Sabha seats. That done, the voter turned to matters on hand in the recent Assembly election and taught Das a lesson that he and his party will not soon forget.
Of the 28 Assembly seats allocated to scheduled tribes, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), in alliance with the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), won 20 seats on its way to dethroning Das and assuming power. The tribal voter’s dislike for Das began the moment Das’ announcement of 14 per cent reservation in jobs for Other Backward Castes. But worse was the dilution of the state's tenancy act and of the Land Acquisition Act in 2018. And as reported in this newspaper, the Pathalgadi movement emerged as a reaction to Das, for safeguarding tribal rights. Voters were determined to get a government that recognised tribal rights and that would snatch their land from them — land that would go to industry, whose ultimate benefit would anyway by non-tribals. The JMM benefited from this tribal sentiment and unsurprisingly emerged the single largest party after the election.
The Congress did well to ride piggyback on the JMM, winning seats that it hadn’t since 1980. Its election manifesto was strong on local promises, unlike the BJP’s. And despite the BJP's win in urban seats like Ranchi, Dhanbad, and Hazaribagh, for instance, the Congress won seats that had a Muslim voting population despite visits by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to East Singbhum and Giridih. Both the UP CM’s bizarre requests that each family donate `11 and one brick for the proposed Ram temple in Ayodhya, and home minister Amit Shah’s promise that a Ram Temple “touching the skies” would be built in four months yielded no electoral dividend. It proved that the Ram temple is a non-issue for the ordinary Indian in these extraordinarily mismanaged economic times.
Most telling, however, was the PM’s campaign speeches regarding the protests against the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act. He deployed his polarising polemic during his blitzkrieg during the Assembly election’s last two phases, speaking of identifying the protesters “by their clothes”. Either the voter did not care, or she felt the PM had gone too far — after all, most tribal voters are not Hindus. Modi may now brood over causes of the stinging Jharkhand defeat. But which way the political wind has begun to blow was clear when a hitherto obliging CM like Andhra Pradesh’s Jagan Mohan Reddy said while counting was still on that he would not implement the NRC. More may soon jump the boat. In the meanwhile, we wish the new Jharkhand CM, Hemant Soren, all the best in bringing his state back on course. And now, over to Delhi’s Assembly election, up next.