Ranchi: It looks set to be a BJP clean sweep in Jharkhand, according to the News18 IPSOS exit poll, which has predicted 10 seats for the saffron party in the state. The rest four seats may be divided equally between JMM and Congress.
However, the India Today Axis has predicted almost a clean sweep of 12 to 14 seats for BJP with around 0 to 2 for Congress.
Though Jharkhand has so far remained a comfort zone for the BJP, a united opposition put up a spirited fight this time, with a Congress-led four-party coalition making an all-out bid for the saffron bastion.
The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), the Jharkhand Vikash Morcha (Prajatantrik) and the Rastriya Janata Dal (RJD) hammered out a seat-sharing agreement with the Congress, which got the lion’s share of seven seats of 14 Lok Sabha seats up for grabs. The JMM contested on four seats and the JVM (P) and the RJD were allotted two and one, respectively.
Standing against this opposition alliance was the ruling BJP and the All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU) in a 13-1 seat-sharing formula.
Before becoming a separate state in 2000, the Jharkhand region of undivided Bihar had been voting for the BJP. Even though the Janata Dal and the JMM had a pact in the 1991 general election, the BJP won five seats in the region. At the time, the Congress had fought separately.
In the next three Lok Sabha elections — 1996, 1998 and 1999 — the BJP routed the Congress and the JMM, winning 12, 13 and 12 seats, respectively. In 1998, although there was an opposition alliance in place, it was overwhelmed by a groundswell of support in favour of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led BJP. In 2009, despite the Congress returning to power at the Centre, the BJP retained its control over Jharkhand, cornering eight out of the 14 seats.
In the 2014 elections, the BJP polled 52,07,439 out of the 1,27,92,013 valid votes, constituting 40.7%, whereas all the four opposition parties, which fielded candidates independently, had a combined vote share of 36.8%. This resulted in the BJP winning 12 seats, while the JMM retained two.
According to political observers, the grand alliance posed a big challenge to the BJP in Jharkhand this time, with the Modi wave not as strong as it was in 2014. The RJD, which could not be convinced to be satisfied with one seat, has fielded a candidate in Chatra, resulting in a ‘friendly fight’ with the Congress nominee there.
Mindful of not repeating its past mistakes, the Congress nominated Geeta Koda, wife of former Jharkhand CM Madhu Koda, for the Singhbhum constituency, where she enjoys a good support base. In 2014, she ended up second, pushing the Congress candidate to the third position.
The opposition alliance was also convinced this time that the state government’s attempt to tweak Section 21 of the Chotanagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act and Section 13 of the Santhal Pargana Tenancy (SPT) Act, enabling use of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, would electorally backfire on the BJP.
Although the government, headed by Chief Minister Raghubar Das, decided not to press ahead with the amendments in the face of simmering resentment in the tribal heartland, the opposition parties succeeded in spotlighting the issue as an attempt to grab tribal land and hand it over to coal mining interests and industrialists.
Growing unemployment, poverty and malnutrition in rural pockets, attacks on religious minorities and a lack of value addition to minerals mined in Jharkhand are some of the major issues that the opposition used against the government.
To counter emotive issues like amendments to the CNT and SPT Acts, the BJP government pushed for the Sarna religious code, which seeks a separate religious identity for tribals, who worship nature.
The BJP is largely banking on the charisma of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the “strong steps” taken on national security.