Anti-tribal governance of Raghubar Das cost BJP Jharkhand: 'Local' Hemant Soren spoke to us in our language, nailed it with his campaign, say voters

  • While the BJP focussed on issues like national security, Ayodhya verdict, and the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, which were also issues that the party raised on a national level, found negligible resonance among state voters

  • The government's attempts to grab land from the indigenous population and moves to quash local resistance were a major factor that worked against the BJP

  • Hemant Soren campaigned really well. In every district that he went to, he spoke in the local language, which cemented a connection with the people, felt voters in Jharkhand

With the Bharatiya Janata Party having lost in 26 out of 28 Adivasi-dominated constituencies in Jharkhand, the tribal community has emerged as a decisive voice against the saffron party in the 2019 Assembly election. Jharkhand is the fifth state that the BJP has lost in last one year.

In the run-up to the five-phase election in Jharkhand that began on 30 November, activists and state opposition leaders accused the outgoing Raghubar Das government of adopting an "anti-tribal" approach to governance. "This perception has been proved by the election result," said Ramdev Vishwabandhu, a rights activist in Giridih.

In reserved as well as in general seats, the BJP was crippled by a consolidated vote in favour of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM)-Congress-Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) alliance. One of the strongest factors in favour of the alliance's chief ministerial candidate Hemant Soren, is the fact that he is a local and "a part of the community".

The JMM, formed by former chief minister and Hemant's father Shibu Soren, finished the race by overtaking the BJP to become the single-largest party in the state. The party won 30 seats on its own as compared to the BJP's 25.

While the BJP focussed on issues like national security, Ayodhya verdict, and the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, which were also issues that the party raised on a national level,  found negligible resonance among state voters. Activists said that the fear of alienation among the state's tribal population and religious minorities was cemented after the amended citizenship law was passed by the Parliament.

"The incident of violence in the Jamia Milia Islamia university campus happened on 15 December, one day before the fourth phase of the Assembly election. In constituencies that voted in the fourth and fifth phase of the election, the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) sentiment had taken root and is likely to have been the last straw for these sections of voters," said James Herenj, convenor of Jharkhand NREGA Watch.

What went against the BJP?

 Anti-tribal governance of Raghubar Das cost BJP Jharkhand: Local Hemant Soren spoke to us in our language, nailed it with his campaign, say voters

Hemant Soren campaigned really well. In every district that he went to, he spoke in the local language, which cemented a connection with the people, say experts. Image/Natasha Trivedi

The tribal community, which makes up 26 percent of the state's population, was reeling under the accumulation of several issues over the last few years, none of which have been addressed by the state government.

"They had a stable government for the last five years, but no work was done. Everyone is talking about how Raghubar Das is the first chief minister to complete the whole term, but his own defeat against Saryu Roy is an indication of the Adivasis' ire against the party," Vishwabandhu said.

Cases of land grabbing

The government's attempts to grab land from the indigenous population and moves to quash local resistance were a major factor that worked against the BJP. "In 2016, they tried to fiddle with the two laws that protect Adivasis from being dispossessed of their land, the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act and the Chhota Nagpur Tenancy Act. The proposed amendments were rejected after widespread protests, but people lost the trust that their culture and resources would be safe under the BJP," said Herenj.

The creation of 'land banks' in 2016 confounded the problem. Ostensibly, the land bank of 21 lakh acres was earmarked to encourage the growth of industries under the Momentum Jharkhand project, however, in reality, the government carried out acquisition of forest land in several villages without the consent of the gram sabha, as is stipulated by the Forest Rights Act, 2006.

In the state's Godda district, at least nine villages are fighting a sustained battle against the government-backed Adani power plant, which usurped fertile land in at least four of those villages. 16 locals who have lost their land despite refusing the compensation, have filed cases against the acquisition in the district court.

Several Opposition parties, including the Congress, JMM, Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM) and activists had in 2018 come together to object to the state government's proposed amendments to the Act, dubbing the move a "death warrant".

In addition to depriving people of their rights over resources like land, the government refused to pay heed to movements like Pathalgadhi, which picked up pace in Khunti and surrounding districts in December 2017.

Instead, the State doubled down on locals, with cases of sedition filed against thousands of people for being part of the movement.

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The movement, which seeks to assert the Adivasi community's right to self-governance as defined in the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, is likely to have had a significant bearing on the result of the election, Ranchi-based journalist Anand Dutta said.

"People were scared and angry about the fact that the movement was suppressed, but also about the way in which it was done. Innocent people have been arrested, FIRs have been filed against unnamed people all these factors have been detrimental. Adivasis were scared of the BJP government," he added.

One of the first steps that the new government should take is to drop cases against Pathalgadhi leaders and ordinary citizens, Dutta said, adding that the Momentum Jharkhand project barely took off the ground. "It's left to be seen how the new government takes it forward and how much assistance it gets from the Centre."

Herenj added, "The expectation from the incoming government is that projects like the Adani plant be stopped and the land should be returned to their owners." While the JVM won in the Poreyahat constituency, the BJP retained its seats in the Godda and Khunti Assembly constituencies, despite in-fighting and resentment over the ticket distribution decisions.

"The anti-BJP vote got split between the JMM and the JVM candidate in Khunti, Dayamani Barla. Additionally, the voter turnout was very low," Dutta explained.

The issue of starvation deaths is another challenge that the BJP government fell several paces short in dealing with appropriately and adequately.

At least, 22 hunger deaths have been reported in the state since 2014, but not only did the authorities refuse to acknowledge starvation as a catalyst in the deaths, but also dillydallied in fixing loopholes in social welfare schemes like the Public Distribution System (PDS).

The anti-BJP vote got split between the JMM and the JVM candidate in Khunti, Dayamani Barla. Additionally, the voter turnout was very low, feel experts. PTI

The anti-BJP vote got split between the JMM and the JVM candidate in Khunti, Dayamani Barla. Additionally, the voter turnout was very low, feel experts. PTI

"A lot of people have lost their ration cards and old age pensions because of Aadhaar-related complications, which weren't addressed by the government," said Afsana Khatun, a worker with the NREGA Sahayta Kenra in Latehar district's Mahuadanr block.

Two starvation deaths occurred in the block in January and June 2019. After the deaths, it became an issue for the voters in the Manika Assembly constituency, Khatun added.

The lack of basic facilities like electricity and drinking water, despite repeated appeals, also hurt the BJP, she said.

Mob lynching cases

The state saw a spate of mob violence cases since March 2016, with 23 people having died under Das' watch. Although the was left out of the campaigning of most major parties ahead of the election, the BJP government's silence on the issue was the most conspicuous, activists said.

The state government was perceived to have not taken adequate efforts to curb the violence that has been directed largely towards the tribal, Muslim, and Christian communities. A pattern that emerged in several cases was that the accused, the self-appointed gau rakshaks belonging to the General or OBC categories, forced the victims to recite slogans like 'Jai Shri Ram'.

Additionally, BJP leader Jayant Sinha's felicitation of eight convicts of a mob lynching case was a cause of anger against the saffron party over this issue.

Unemployment and a proposed revision of the domicile policy in the state were also major factors that worked against the BJP.

The Raghubar Das government's "rush" to implement central schemes like the Ayushman Bharat scheme or the Swachch Bharat Abhiyan also caused its own policies, which were more local-centric, to suffer.

"During this Assembly election, civil society groups were more active in their campaign to educate people and make them aware of the issues that are plaguing the state than they were during the Lok Sabha election. That effort also seems to have proved effective," Herenj said.

What worked in favour of Congress-JMM-RJD?

In addition to fielding a local face as the chief ministerial candidate, the Congress-JMM-RJD alliance hit the mark with its campaign and pre-poll promises. They will be held accountable if they don't show initiative and commitment in fulfilling the promises, activists said.

"Hemant Soren campaigned really well. In every district that he went to, he spoke in the local language, which cemented a connection with the people," Dutta said.

Vishwabandhu lauded the formation of an alliance as a factor of strength for the Congress and JMM because the votes didn't get split between the Opposition parties. "The Muslim community also gave a decisive vote to the grand alliance due to the fear of mob lynchings," Dutta added.

In addition to immediate relief in land-related problems, Herenj said that the alliance has promised to do away with the Aadhar-based biometric authentication required for the disbursal of grains under the PDS.

"The biometric authentication is a major hurdle for struggling families or old people to get the support they are entitled to. The alliance has said that for those who aren't able to use the biometric authentication, ration will be given based on the ration card itself," he said.

The alliance also said that the reservation in state government jobs for ST/SC communities would be increased.

The voters are going to hold them to all these statements, activists stated.

Largely, Jharkhand has voted for a change to turn the tide in their favour and they are hoping that with a chief minister from their own community, their problems, especially to do with land and starvation deaths, will be solved on priority.

In this election, there is an indication that people have matured as voters, experts said. They have realised that they don't have to bear the same legislators even if they are unhappy with their governance.

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Updated Date: Dec 24, 2019 23:24:43 IST