The Hot Seats in Jharkhand That Could Determine the Fate of Assembly Elections

A five-phase election spanning almost a month for the 81-member Jharkhand assembly has not evoked much response in the national media thus far where initially, it looked like the time span would help BJP to marshal resources and micromanage poll strategies.

The challenge for the Raghubar Das government to retain power was all the more important after BJP failed to repeat its stellar performance of Lok Sabha polls in Haryana and Maharashtra. It should be recalled that Chhattisgarh, with 90 assembly constituencies and a greater Naxal presence, was put to vote in three phases this year.

However, the election story of Jharkhand is not so simple and anyone who has covered the ground can tell that the polls in progress are going to be highly local in character and result. Last month’s Ayodhya verdict by the Supreme Court and abrogation of Article 370 provisions for Jammu and Kashmir do not find much resonance in these elections.

The BJP has adopted a change in tack in Jharkhand this time and shifted from a tribal chief minister policy to a non-tribal one. And with 29 per cent of the population falling under the Schedule Tribes category, the party is banking on non-tribal consolidation in a manner similar to the non-Jat consolidation that helped win Haryana in October. The ruling party has also had to take into account anti-incumbency sentiment over the past five-year rule. Moreover, BJP is in the election without an ally — its alliance partner of many years All Jharkhand Student’s Union has decided to go alone in these polls.

Jharkhand, which shares borders with disparate regions of various states, has at least five different linguistic groups: Bengali, Odia, Chhattisgarhi, Bhojpuri and Maithili. This peculiar feature makes the state interesting and rends the support base of political parties, with only the BJP enjoying a somewhat pan-Jharkhand appeal.

While industrialisation reached here even prior to Independence, the state has large areas dominated by poverty with a few pockets of development. In the absence of any one party as a strong rival, the BJP is still hoping for a favourable outcome and the election result will be dependent on local equations as analysis of some seats in the first three phrases confirm.

Two more rounds remain after Thursday’s third phase, with counting of votes on December 23. Another important aspect of this election is that so many turncoats are in the fray that voters are likely to be confused about the allegiances of many candidates. Let’s look at some key seats:

Latehar [SC]

Here the Bharatiya Janata Party, in an audacious move, decided to back Prakash Rai, an MLA from Jharkhand Vikas Morcha [Marandi] over its own hopeful Santosh Paswan who is now contesting as an independent candidate with the aim to dent the BJP’s prospects. What is also interesting is that Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) pick Baijnath Ram was also a minister in the previous BJP government. So, all three contestants here have a BJP link.

Ghadhwa

BJP MLA Satyendra Tiwari is contesting again and is pitted against his old rival Mithlesh Thakur who is fighting on a JMM ticket and happens to be a local candidate. The JVM is also contesting here with Suraj Gupta as its pick, but the main contest is between the JMM and BJP and this is evenly poised in both urban pockets and rural areas.

Chatra [SC]

The Congress and JMM have allotted this seat to their third ally, RJD, and the BJP’s Janardhan Paswan has been putting up a tough fight against Satyanand Bhokta, a former minister of the previous BJP government who had contested the last election as a JVM man. The RJD is looking good here with a sizeable presence of its vote base.

Chatarpur [SC]

The BJP has denied a ticket to its MLA and former party chief whip Radha Krishna Kishore, but he is contesting on an All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU) ticket. The Congress-JMM-RJD alliance has put up RJD candidate Vijay Ram, an ex-MP, because of a potent Muslim-Yadav combination here, and the BJP is not looking good.

Vishrampur

In this constituency, old rival Ramchandra Chandrawanshi, a BJP minister, is taking on Chandra Shekhar Dubey, popularly known as Dadai, of the Congress. A very different kind of controversy erupted during the election when Dubey’s son, Ajay, who was also an aspirant, died, which some allege was a suicide because of denial of the ticket. The JVM has put up Anju Singh here who was runner-up in the last election.

Daltanganj

Incumbent MLA Alok Chaurasia of the JVM is now contesting on a BJP ticket. The Congress has fielded KN Tripathi and the JVM has put up Dr Rahul Agrawal. Tensions here are so high that on polling day, November 30, Congress candidate Tripathi allegedly waved a gun during a skirmish with BJP workers, which sparked a row on social media.

Hussainabad

This seat was won by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in 2014, but its MLA Shiv Pujan Mehta is now contesting on an AJSU ticket. The constituency, which is arguably a swing seat, will be an interesting contest to watch out for. The BSP has fielded Virendra Paswan, the RJD Sanjay Singh Yadav, the JVM Virendra Kumar and the BJP Binod Singh, making it a multi-corner contest.

Gumla [ST]

Here again BJP has dropped its sitting MLA and has put up Misir Kujur who is facing Bhushan Tirrki of JMM. The JVM has fielded Rajendra Tigga and thus all three contesting are Christian Uraon Tribals. The voting touched almost 70 per cent despite an IED blast by Maoists few days back in a fitting reply to their call of boycott.

Bishanpur [ST]

Here the main contest is between JMM and BJP candidate, mainly Chamra Linda, a two-term MLA, and Ashok Uraon. The JVM has also put up Mahendra Uraon. The JMM hopes that the JVM may dent BJP more.

Lohardaga [ST]

Here Congress state president, former IPS officer and chairman of National Commission for Scheduled Tribes Rameshwar Oraon is up against Sukhdeo Bhagat of the BJP. Bhagat, a former state Congress president, won the 2015 bypoll from the party, but has now switched sides. The AJSU is also a force here, having won this constituency twice earlier and has put up Neeru Bhagat, wife of two-time MLA from here Kamal Kishor Bhagat. All three nominees belong to the Hindu Oraon tribe.

Manika

The BJP has dropped sitting MLA Hari Kishan and put up Raghupal Singh while the Congress has relied on Ramchandra Singh, an ex MLA of RJD. The JVM has put up Rajpal Singh, but the main contest is between the BJP and Congress.

Panki

The BJP has fielded a fresh face, Shashi Bhushan Mehta, while the Congress candidate is MLA Devendra Singh. The JVM has picked Rudra Kumar Shukla. Mehta is a murder accused, and sparked a controversy when he was recently photographed on the dais at a BJP rally with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Raghubar Das.

Bhawnathpur

BJP’s Bhanu Pratap Shahi won this seat in 2014 as an independent candidate and was a minister in the 2005 Madhu Koda cabinet. He is viewed as a tainted person in a medicine scam as he was arrested on a CBI chargesheet in 2011. He has been nominated by the BJP over Anant Pratap who joined the party from the Congress a few years ago. Shahi is now facing KP Yadav of the Congress here. The Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) has also fielded a candidate, Amit Panday, hoping to dent the BJP’s prospects.

Jamshedpur [East]

While chief minister Raghubar Das is expected to win comfortably here, former colleague and rebel Saryu Rai is raising important issues, causing a stir. The Congress has fielded Professor Gourav Vallabh, a known orator, but he is unlikely to trouble Das.

Jamshedpur [West]

The BJP has dropped sitting MLA Saryu Rai and put up Devendra Singh who is now facing Banna Gupta of the Congress who won the seat in 2009 on a Congress ticket. Brijesh Munna Singh of the AJSU and Pankaj Singh of the JVM are other prominent candidates.

Jugsalai [SC]

It’s on the outskirts of Jamshedpur and a traditional AJSU seat. However, this time the JMM has a chance because of a split between BJP and AJSU. The main contesting candidates are MLA Ram Chandra Sahis of AJSU, Mochiram Bauri of BJP, Mangal Kalindi of JMM and Ram Chandra Paswan of JVM.

Baharagora

It’s a JMM stronghold but party MLA Kunal Sarangi is now contesting on a BJP ticket. The JMM has put up Sameer Mahato and JVM Hari Mohan Mahato. This area is close to West Bengal, so the Trinamool Congress has also fielded a candidate, Kulvinder Singh. A close contest is on.

Seraikella [ST]

The area is famous for the Chhau dance tradition. Three-term JMM MLA Champai Soren, is taking on the BJP’s Ganesh Mahali whom he defeated by a slender margin of 1,100 votes in 2014. This time the BJP is confident of a win but the breakup with AJSU might get in the way. The AJSU has fielded Anant Kumar Tudu, an ex MLA of the BJP.

Kharsawan [ST]

The area is under the influence of union tribal affairs minister and former CM Arjun Munda, yet his wife Geeta Munda has been denied a ticket by the BJP which has fielded Jawahar Banra. JMM has fielded Dashrath Gagrai, AJSU Sanjay Jarika while the JVM candidate is Ram Honhaga. The outcome of this seat is largely dependent on Arjun Munda’s moves.

Chaibasa [ST]

JMM MLA Deepak Birua won this seat the last time with 49 per cent of total votes polled. This when at least four prominent parties/candidates were in the fray. This time he is taking on Jyoti Bhramar Tubid of the BJP, a former bureaucrat from the state.

Ghatshila [ST]

The BJP has dropped MLA Laxman Tudu and put up Lakhan Mardi. The JMM has picked Ramdas Soren. However, there are complaints that the Congress is not backing the JMM here. Dr Pradeep Kumar Balmuchu an ex-Congress MLA and Rajya Sabha member is contesting on an AJSU ticket. The seat is heading for a triangular contest in which the BJP is banking on local factors as the other two candidates are seen as outsiders.

Potka

The BJP is relying on its two-term MLA Maneka Sardar, who is taking on old rival Sanjeev Sardar of the JMM against whom she won last time with a thin margin of around three per cent votes. Bulu Rani Singh of AJSU is also in the fray. It’s Maneka’s fifth election but this time she is facing a tough challenge from the rivals.

(The author is a lawyer and a political observer. Views expressed are personal.)