In Jharkhand, BJP poised to gain by default as Opposition is in disarray

Source: business-standard.com

From all appearances, the Jharkhand Assembly polls later this year look like a cinch for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). If the Lok Sabha election outcome is a hot lead — the National Democratic Alliance won 12 of the 14 seats and secured a vote share of 55.29 per cent— the BJP and its partners, the All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU) and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), can stage an encore in this neck of the woods that seldom gives a winner an absolute majority in the legislature.

Jharkhand has an Opposition that a ruling party would dream of. In this case, the BJP and the AJSU (the LJP does not have a legislator) governed for five years after winning the 2014 elections with a bare majority. “It is the most conducive Opposition a party in power can hope for. Even if people search for an alternative, they can’t find one. The BJP gains by default,” a Ranchi-based veteran political observer said.

The BJP’s Jayant Sinha, Hazaribagh MP and a former central minister, remarked: “The Opposition alliance doesn’t have a leader, an ideology, a common minimum programme or the skills to work together. People saw through this hotchpotch combine.” The “combine” comprised the Congress, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) or JVMP, and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).

Recent developments support the observations on the Opposition’s plight. Jharkhand Pradesh Congress chief Ajoy Kumar quit his post on Friday, accusing some colleagues of indulging in corrupt practices and promoting their own interests over the party’s and said “worst criminals look better” than them. A few days ago, Kumar was roughed up allegedly by allegiants of his rivals in the party, Subodh Kant Sahay, former Union minister, and Pradeep Kumar Balmuchu, Rajya Sabha MP.

The RJD split vertically, which gave birth to the RJD (Democratic), led by Gautam Sagar Rana. The JVMP, helmed by former BJP chief minister Babulal Marandi, suffered a setback after its MLA and Marandi lieutenant, Pradip Yadav, was jailed on an attempted rape charge. The JMM, the mainspring of the Opposition grouping, hit a rough patch after its patriarch Shibu Soren was defeated in the Dumka Lok Sabha seat, his fief, for a third time and his son and heir apparent, Hemant, led the coalition to a defeat in the last state polls.

With a spring in its step, the BJP encapsulated its target in the “Mission 65 plus” slogan, based on the fact that in the parliamentary polls, it led in 63 of the 81 Assembly constituencies. In 2014, the BJP and the AJSU together won 40 seats. Shivpujan Pathak, the BJP’s state media minder, claimed: “The ambience hasn’t changed. Our biggest achievement is we offered Jharkhand its first stable government lasting five years. Before 2014, there were instability and Maoist attacks. Under our government, there is inclusive development, fuelled by a double engine because we have a government at the Centre too.”

According to Sinha, the “double engine-driven growth” was a force multiplier in at least three sectors. Under the Ujjwala Yojana, a targeted scheme to provide cooking gas connections to BPL households, the Jharkhand government distributed free burners, with the first costless cylinder; it plans to hand a second cylinder shortly so that women do not revert to the “chulha” if the wait for a refill gets long and uncertain. Second, the Ayushman Bharat Health Protection scheme was universalised to cover any person having a ration card. “In effect, two-thirds of Jharkhand’s population are covered,” said Sinha. Third, the Rs 6,000 annual minimum income support to farmers under the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi was enhanced by the state government — additional Rs 5,000 per acre to farmer who owned less than an acre, not as a loan or an amount to be redeemed. The scheme was projected to benefit nearly 2.3 million small and marginal farmers who already received interest-free loans and a crop insurance cover.

However, even BJP sources conceded there were “challenges” to face and loopholes to plug. The Santhal Pargana region, accounting for 18 Assembly seats, is on the BJP’s radar because of concerns that tribal voters may turn to the JMM and the Congress for succour. “Our government is backward caste-driven,” a senior BJP leader said. Chief Minister Raghubar Das is from the backward caste Vaish community.

Memories of 2016 still anger tribals. That year, Das amended the Chotanagpur and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Acts to permit the acquisition of tribal-owned land for “development”. These Acts proscribed the transfer of tribal land to non-tribal people and favoured community ownership. After huge protests, the government withdrew the amendments in 2017.

The BJP sought to assuage tribal people’s sentiments by resorting to symbolism. It kicked off 2019 with a 15-day campaign to collect soil from the villages of pre-Independence martyrs and build a statue of tribal legend Birsa Munda on the old jail campus in Ranchi. BJP President Amit Shah visited Munda’s village, Ulihatu, to felicitate his descendants.

Will the gestures help? A central leader’s answer was: “Jharkhand’s demography is diverse. The BJP has to portray itself as an inclusive entity and not a sectional one.”

Raghuvansh Prasad Singh’s outreach to Nitish: A sign of churn in Bihar?

Source: business-standard.com

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has decimated the opposition in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, but intriguing developments of the past few days suggest space opening up for a possible churn in Bihar politics in the run up to the state Assembly polls by October 2020.

On Tuesday, union minister and BJP leader Giriraj Singh ridiculed Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and others over their attending ‘iftaar’ parties. In turn, Kumar was dismissive of Giriraj Singh’s comments and said his government would deliver on all its promises much before the Assembly polls.

By evening, BJP sources said party chief Amit Shah had phoned Giriraj Singh and advised him to be careful about his comments, particularly on BJP’s allies.

In his tweet, Giriraj Singh had commented at a photograph of Kumar and other leaders breaking fast at an ‘iftar’. “How beautiful would the picture have emerged, had phalaahaar (a fruit feast) been organised during Navaratra with the same fervour with splendid photographs taken. Why do we lag behind in observance of our own karm-dharm (religious customs) in public, while staying ahead in making a show for those of others,” Singh tweeted in Hindi.

The latest developments come in the wake of Kumar spurning the offer of a cabinet berth in the Narendra Modi-led council of ministers at the Centre, stating that his party does not “symbolic” but “proportional representation”. He, however, denied any “unease” between the allies.

Kumar then expanded his cabinet, including eight ministers, all from the Janata Dal (United) that he leads. He offered the BJP one ministerial berth, which it refused.

On Monday, senior Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh said all non-BJP parties needed to get together to provide a national alternative to the BJP. “We are not allergic to any particular party or leader,” Raghuvansh Prasad Singh said when asked about Kumar’s acceptability.

“It would be even better if all small parties merge together and become a single entity to take on the humongous challenge posed by the BJP,” Raghuvansh Prasad Singh said. He said these were his personal views but RJD chief Lalu Prasad, currently incarcerated, and he have worked together for a long time and thought alike “on most occasions”.

In the just concluded Lok Sabha polls, the RJD could not win a single seat in Bihar. Its ally Congress could win one seat. However, Kumar’s JD(U) won 16, and allies BJP and Lok Janshakti Parthy won 17 and six seats respectively.

The RJD vote share in the Lok Sabha polls was 15.36 per cent, while JD (U)’s was 21.81 per cent, BJP’s 23.58 per cent and LJP’s 7.86 per cent. The Congress bagged a vote share of 7.7 per cent. In 2015 Assembly polls, the alliance of RJD, JD (U) and Congress had defeated the BJP-led NDA in Bihar.

Historically, the JD (U), and its previous avatar of Samata Party, has performed poorly whenever it has fought any election without a strong alliance partner.

The Samata Party, with George Fernandes and Kumar as its top leaders, could win only seven of undivided Bihar’s 324 assembly seats. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the JD (U) could win only two seats. The JD (U) has improved its vote share significantly.

Observers of Bihar politics say Kumar is aware that the BJP might now want the chief ministerial chair for itself after the next Assembly polls. In Maharashtra in 2014, the BJP had severed ties with the Shiv Sena to emerge the single largest party in the Assembly.

However, no other party currently has a leader of the stature of Kumar in Bihar, including the BJP. BJP’s Giriraj Singh is now a cabinet minister in the Modi government, while Bihar BJP state unit chief Nityanand Rai, being groomed as a possible chief minister, is minister of state for home at the Centre but still lacks Kumar’s popularity.

Raghuvansh Prasad Singh’s comments suggest that the parties that came out of the womb of the socialist parties, or the ‘Janata parivar’, could be prepared to come together under Kumar’s leadership. “Now that the results have dented Tejaswi Yadav’s leadership, the challenge from within the family of Lalu Prasad to Kumar has weakened,” a Bihar leader said.

Giriraj Singh, who defeated CPI’s Kanhaiya Kumar from Begusarai, has been a known detractor of Kumar’s. “We have never taken utterances of Giriraj seriously. We have always believed in giving respect to all religions and hence we sport a ’tilak’ and also wear skullcaps.” JD(U) spokesman Sanjay Singh said.

The ’tilak’ and skullcap metaphor is reminiscent of the developments of April, 2013, when at his party’s national executive meet in New Delhi Kumar had used the analogy to highlight ideological differences with the BJP, which eventually led to him severing 17-year-old ties between the two parties.

Union minister and LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan said the BJP-JD(U) and his party’s alliance is “intact”. Former chief ministers Rabri Devi and Jitan Ram Manjhi also appeared to have mellowed towards Kumar. Kumar attended the iftar that Manjhi hosted. Rabri Devi said any decision on inclusion of new allies can be taken only in consultation with all allies.

Union minister and LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan said the BJP-JD(U) and his party’s alliance is “intact”. Former chief ministers Rabri Devi and Jitan Ram Manjhi also appeared to have mellowed towards Kumar. Kumar attended the iftar that Manjhi hosted. Rabri Devi said any decision on inclusion of new allies can be taken only in consultation with all allies.