In the general elections 2009, BJP had a distinct advantage in Jharkhand. The party won 8 out of total 14 Lok Sabha seats and planned to win a clear majority in the state assembly elections. The assembly results, however, came out to be a rude and shocking retreat for the BJP that too when circumstances absolutely favoured it. And for insiders, this turnaround is neither unexpected nor undesired.
The story goes back to the unceremonious exit of ‘Guruji’ Shibu Soren who was thrown out of office after losing elections from a seat all considered a cakewalk in January 2009 prompting President’s rule in the state. Thereafter, the winning script of corrupt Madhu Koda-Congress (UPA) linkage slowly and gradually disappeared while few realized what was happening. Come July and the New Governor Sankarnarayana took oath of office. Here was a shrewd old Congressman with a long experience in politics and a clear agenda- populist programmes and immediate relief to the drought-struck public with explicit Congress stamp. Not that the sense of relief that was experienced by the public was misplaced, Sankarnarayana indeed brought some visible change in bureaucracy-broker-corporate nexus. It was a justified celebration of a one-wonder magician who was credited with bringing some ‘order’ back into the state polity. The Congress party also allied with former BJP leader and now president of Jharkhand Vikas Manch (Prajatantrik), Babulal Marandi who is perceived to be a no-nonsense and relatively ‘honest’ politician. While it was clear that Congress would emerge as the larger party of the combine, it astutely projected Marandi for the post of CMship right from the beginning. The fact helped that Marandi has always been viewed as ‘an honest man betrayed by the BJP’ by, at least, considerable segments of the middle class of the state and possesses a loyal votebank in some regions of the state which we will see later. Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) retained its stronghold in most of the regions where it has historically performed well. It seems that ‘Guruji’ also, to a certain extent, cashed on his victimhood after his controversial and sudden exit from CM’s office especially among some Adivasi voters.
Let us now attempt a regional analysis of the Assembly election results. Jharkhand has five divisions which broadly conform to the historically understood regions of the state- Kolhan, South Chhotanagpur, North Chhotanagpur, Santhal Pargana (Dumka) and Palamu. From a cursory glance of the results, it seems to be a classic Jharkhand result with very clear and fine regional patterns. The analysis presented here is based on quick calculations and any corrections would be welcome. The claim here is to be reasonably indicative rather than perfectly accurate.
Kolhan region (Three districts namely East Singhbhum, West Singhbhum and Saraikela and Two Loksabha Seats namely Jamshedpur and Singhbhum-a predominantly Adivasi region) has historically been a BJP-JMM stronghold.
In the general elections 2009, Arjun Munda (BJP) and Madhu Koda (Independent!) won from Jamshedpur and Singhbhum respectively. Out of total 14 Assembly seats, this time too, BJP has won 6, JMM 4, Congress-JVM 2 and AJSU 2.
North Chhotanagpur region (Seven districts namely Chatra, Koderma, Giridih, Hazaribagh, Ramgarh, Bokaro and Dhanbad and Five LS seats namely Chatra, Koderma, Giridih, Dhanbad and Hazaribagh) is more diverse in terms of its ethnicity as well as electoral choices. So, the industrial belt of Ramgarh, Dhanbad and Bokaro had considerable communist presence of various shades. Marxist Coordination Committee (MCC) headed by legendary A. K. Roy is quite popular in Dhanbad-they even won Nirsa assembly seat this time and Ramgarh assembly constituency was till 2000 elections, a stronghold of CPI. It is also a region with considerable population of SCs which also explain the lack of common voting pattern across districts.
In the general elections 2009, Chatra was won by Inder Singh Namdhari (this time Independent-an old Janata leader-famous for crossing parties-has been with every possible coalition-assembly speaker for a long time, once was in the race of CMship), Koderma by region's own Babulal Marandi (JVM-P), Giridih and Dhanbad (BJP) and Hazaribagh (Yahswant Sinha-BJP). This time, out of total 25 assembly seats, BJP won merely 3, JMM 3, Congress-JVM 13, RJD 2 and Others 4. The victory of RJD is mainly concentrated in the seats bordering Bihar, for instance, in Chatra and Koderma.
This region has also been very supportive of Babulal Marandi. It would not be an overstatement to say that JVM (P) has quite limited influence outside North Chhotanagpur region. This constitutes one reason why Congress-JVM could not do a miracle as was expected.
South Chhotanagpur region (Five districts namely Ranchi, Khunti, Lohardagga, Gumla and Simdega and Three LS seats namely Ranchi, Khunti and Loherdagga) is again a predominantly Adivasi region.
In the general elections 2009, Ranchi was won by Subodh Kant Sahay (Congress) and Khunti and Lohardagga by BJP. Out of total 15 Assembly seats; BJP won 6, Congress-JVM 3, JMM 1 and Others 5 which includes AJSU.
Palamu region (Three districts namely Palamu, Latehar and Garhwa and One LS seat namely Palamu) has small Adivasi population and considerable SC population. This region is also culturally very close to Bhojpuri speaking areas of neighbouring states of Bihar and UP which explains complete absence of JMM from Palamu.
In the general elections 2009, Palamu seat was won by an ex-Naxalite Kameshwar Baitha with a ticket from JMM. In total 9 Assembly seats; Congress-JVM won 4, BJP-JDU 3 (with one of the two JDU seats coming from here), RJD 1, JMM 0 and Others 1.
Santhal Pargana region (Six districts namely Deoghar, Godda, Sahebganj, Pakur, Dumka and Jamtara and Three LS seats namely Rajmahal, Dumka and Godda) is again a diverse region with districts in the north bordering Bihar and voting accordingly and other districts with large Adivasi populations and bordering West Bengal.
In the general elections 2009, Dumka was won by ‘Guruji’ Shibu Soren on JMM ticket whereas Rajmahal and Godda seats were won by BJP. Out of total 18 Assembly seats; Congress-JVM won 3, BJP-JDU 2 (another of two JDU seats come from a northern district of the region), RJD 2 (from Deogarh and Godda), JMM 10 and Others 1.
This brief analysis takes us to another important feature of electoral processes in the state. To illustrate, we describe the story of Gopal Krishan Patar (because it epitomizes an overarching trend plaguing the electoral system in Jharkhand), who is popularly called Raja Peter, and so unexpectedly defeated as a Jharkhand Party candidate and allegedly as part of a conspiracy from different quarters, Guruji in Tamar assembly constituency. The post-defeat scenario in the state, and particularly JMM, was the craziest drama ever played in Jharkhand. One cannot even imagine the kind of allegations that were hurled by JMM on possibly every political actor in the state. To the extent that he was even declared ill and unreachable for quite some time when hectic parleys were on among various parties and coalition for inheriting the post of Jharkhand CM. Raja Peter again fought the assembly election in 2009 on a JDU ticket. The BJP-JDU alliance with Raja Peter as one of JDU MLAs, however, is now supporting the JMM and Guruji is content with the arrangement.
Discerning observers of state politics have been dreading the emergence and now sustenance of a fluid class of local petty goons to state-level power brokers who have risen on the basis of open loot that characterizes Jharkhand for quite some time. To list some of the activities that produced influential independent candidates as well as behind-the-scene power brokers- mining contracts; links and control over certain, or part of, Maoist levies; indiscriminate loot of government positions as well as seemingly difficult ministries like Health contracts recently; and the existence and the perpetuation of a parallel illegal economy beyond the reach of the state. One indicator which explains the said trend is the fact that petty crimes have not increased whereas certain petty criminals/small-time contractors have grown immensely big. This trend is also associated with the complete inactivity of the state all this while. No wonder, a brink of ‘order’ brought by Sankarnarayana provided a completely new meaning to the electorate and Congress received a new lease of life in the state.
Not surprisingly, if one takes a look at the constituency-wise list, it is difficult not to notice the farce that elections in Jharkhand have become. The most disturbing feature concerns numerous Independents, fighting elections for the first time, emerging victorious and coming second in constituencies alongwith candidates from main political groupings who have travelled across the ideological-political spectrum. It is difficult to find out which political party/coalition most ministers of Madhu Koda and Shibu Soren governments (all ‘officially’ UPA governments), including famous names like Bhanu Pratap Shahi, Bandhu Tirkey and Enos Ekka etc., belonged in the recently-concluded assembly elections. There are parties which have fought more than one election with names and symbols of All India Gomantak Dal, United National Loktantrik Party, Rashtriya Pragatisheel Prajantantra Party in the state with popular names associated with them for brief periods in hibernation. Institutionalised corruption aids the persistence of this phenomenon which has emerged stronger both in reach and depth.
Another interesting feature (and a larger analytical observation) concerns the fate of smaller states in India and contexts like Jharkhand. To take forward the idea of a ‘fluid few’ described in the previous paragraph, take the case of all successive governments in the state since its formation. Right from the time of Babulal Marandi when almost half a dozen ministers revolted against him to the latest case of Shibu Soren blackmailed (and vice versa) by Enos Ekka in December 08-January 09, there have been few individuals who were able to take hostage of the entire state structure and governmental bureaucracy for noticeably long periods of time. Not to mention, these individuals can be named and identified by anybody on the streets of Ranchi. The question then arises-How have they been able to survive even after joining-leaving-rejoining possibly every government that was formed in the state? Interestingly, the state polity needs them more urgently than they ever need a political party (for they always have the option to fight as independents from their fiefdoms or float new parties like Madhu Koda did or join parties with recognizable symbols like the ‘Gomantak’ party!). Till date, all the governments in the state have been formed with active connivance of influential bureaucrats-big business-mafia whose only contribution lies in mobilizing support (mostly in return for immediate monetary benefits and plum ministerial posts- Incidentally, Madhu Koda began his journey to CMship in this precise manner) from independent MLAs. Jharkhand aptly demonstrates, more than anything else under the sun, the ‘power of one’. In an assembly with 81 seats, manipulating the strength of 41 MLAs (and then keeping them together) keeps the lawmakers busy for whole of their term, as has been the experience. This time is no different as many of the now proverbial ‘fluid few’ have again won from their respective constituencies, though from different parties/symbols.
If those countries in North Africa (or parts of Latin America in yesteryears) and the associated mass-anarchy and oligarchic-rent seeking state leave you perplexed, visit Jharkhand.