In the Lok Sabha elections, the grand alliance of the Congress, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) won only two of 14 seats. The Bharatiya Janata Party won 11, and its ally, the All Jharkhand Students Union, won one.
Apart from the larger national reasons for the debacle — the Modi wave, the BJP’s successful strategy of focusing on welfare schemes, and the Opposition’s inability to make the economy and the agrarian crisis issues — the Congress identified lack of coordination between the alliance partners on the ground as an important local factor that worked against the grouping in Jharkhand.
Ahead of the assembly elections, while one of the constituents of the grand alliance Babulal Marandi’s JVM(P) parted ways, the others decided to focus on better coordination.
At one level, this took the form of the local leaders of all three members of the alliance campaigning together.
The JMM contested 43 of the 81 seats, the Congress 31, and the RJD seven.
Meanwhile, the BJP and the AJSU could not come to an understanding over seat-sharing and fought the assembly elections separately.
JMM chief Hemant Soren was present all the rallies addressed by former Congress president Rahul Gandhi and his sister, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. While Rahul Gandhi held five rallies, Priyanka Gandhi addressed one on the last day of campaigning for the fifth phase of polling on December 20. Like in Maharashtra and Haryana, Congress president Sonia Gandhi did not campaign in Jharkhand.
At another level, the Congress decided not to split the tribal vote, even in some traditional strongholds, and conceded these to the JMM. It took the BJP head on in seats where tribals were in a minority, and in urban constituencies.
Interestingly, the Congress’ s campaign strategy in Jharkhand was shaped by the election outcome in Maharashtra and Haryana where the BJP’s sustained focus on the scrapping of Article 370, which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir, could not help it electorally.
It kept the spotlight on local issues, economy and jobs.
The BJP made Article 370, Ayodhya, and the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), now the Citizenship Amendment Act, its main talking points. The alliance engaged its rival on local matters, and limited its discourse on national issues to the economic slowdown, inflation and unemployment.
“We fought the elections for the people of the state by raising issues that affect their lives and livelihoods. The BJP tried to divert the attention of the people away from fundamental issues…The results are a defeat of the BJP’s arrogance and diversionary tactics,” RPN Singh, the Congress’s Jharkhand in-charge, said.
Ghulam Nabi Azad, leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, said, “Slowly and steadily, BJP is being exposed and the people are realising that it has not fulfilled even a single promise in the last six years.”
By winning 15 seats, the Congress registered its best-ever performance in Jharkhand after the state was carved out of Bihar in 2000. The party won 14 seats in the 2009 assembly elections.
Another Congress functionary said on the condition of anonymity that the party will give due “place and respect” to its alliance partners in all poll-bound states in future, and also “appropriate space” to the local leadership in drafting election strategies.
LK Kundan, an associate professor of political science department in Ranchi University, said, “Strong anti-incumbency against the chief minister and his arrogance are the two main reasons for the BJP’s defeat. On the other hand, Hemant Soren, Congress and RJD for the first time changed their mindset of outdoing each other and sincerely worked for the victory of the alliance and their message percolated down to the grassroots.”