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Jharkhand's Litipara bypoll results: Here's why it could tell a story of BJP's downfall in the region

Mahtab Alam | Updated on: 15 April 2017, 15:06 IST
(Arya Sharma/Catch News)

The results of the Jharkhand Litipara Assembly bypolls did not get the attention Delhi's Rajouri Garden results did. However, observers feel that the Santhal Pargana results have the potential to greatly impact state politics in the days to come.

According to the editorial of the most widely-circulated Hindi daily of the state, Prabhat Khabar, the victory of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM)’s candidate is worrisome for the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP).

Though the editorial does not explain why, a glance at the coverage given by the paper gives a clue. Many believe that the result is just a trailer for what is in the store for the BJP in the state.

The Litipara seat was retained by JMM’s Simon Marandi who defeated BJP’s Hemlal Murmu by 12,900 votes. Interestingly, Marandi was the BJP candidate from the seat last time.

The JMM candidate had the support of the Congress, while the All Jharkhand Student Union (AJSU) campaigned for the BJP candidate. What is also to be noted is that the BJP increased its vote share by almost 8%. JMM improved it voting share as well, but it was a very short margin – not even 2%.

Nevertheless, post the Thursday verdict, the opposition parties are jubilant despite their differences and are claiming that it is not just re-election of the JMM candidate but a defeat of BJP politics.

Dismantling the BJP?

“It is a big blow to BJP’s dream of making Jharkhand JMM free,” said Abrar Tabinda, a social activist and writer from the region. Congress State Chief Sukhdev Bhagat also called it a defeat of BJP’s policies.

“This is not just a defeat of Hemlal Murmu (the BJP candidate) but of Chief Minister Raghubar Das’s anti-people policies,” said Bhagat according to a report published in Prabhat Khabar.

Other political parties such as Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM), Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD) and Communist Party of India (Marxist) have echoed Bhagat’s claim. As per reports, it has created quite a clamour for anti-BJP unity.

JMM’s victory, or BJP’s defeat, is significant because CM Raghubar Das himself was leading the campaign and toured the constituency for five days. Moreover, just four days before the poll, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also visited the adjoining Sahebjanj district to announce several schemes and development projects. It was widely believed that this was done keeping the bypolls in mind.

Litipara and Sahebganj fall under the same Lok Sabha constituency, Rajmahal. According to PM’s official website, his address stated: “These development projects will benefit the Santhal Pargana area, and lead to greater empowerment of the tribal communities”.

Reflecting sentiments

Commenting on the results Ranchi-based political observer and editor of Khan, Khanij aur Adhikar Xavier Dias said, “It is a big blow for the BJP ego especially since they had their trump card Modi canvassing. It does show that the Jharkhandi people are not going by the cow-belt sentiment of Modi support.”

According to Dias, amendments in pro-Adivasi laws like Chhota Nagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act, Santhal Pargana Act (SPT) and Domicile Policy have taken the Adivasi support away from the BJP.

JMM general secretary Supriyo Bhattacharya seems to be in agreement with Dias. A report by Indian Express quoted Bhattacharya saying – “The result is a clear message that the BJP’s policy of snatching tribal land and giving it away to industrialists will not help.”

He was referring to the amendments, maintained Indian Express.

Catch has previously reported that Jharkhand Adivasis have been relentlessly protesting for months now, demanding immediate rollback of amendments in tenancy laws and domicile policy. Dias is of the opinion that this can be a game changer.

“If the present Adivasi movement against the CNT-SPT can maintain its tempo then at the next elections you will see even the present Adivasi BJP leaders losing their seats,” said Dias while talking to Catch.

Another political observer, who is based in the Santhal Pargana region and wished anonymity said, “It is a significant victory in the sense that despite all the efforts BJP could not break JMM’s stronghold. Though, Simon Marandi is no more a popular leader.”

According to him, clearly, it is a victory of Teer-Dhanush, the JMM party symbol. “However, I don’t know how far it will go,” he added maintaining that it was a very tough fight. He also said a fallout of amendments in tenancy acts cannot be ruled out.

BJP general secretary Deepak Prakash told Indian Express that, “It was a challenge and we may have lost. But within this loss, we see future wins. For the first time, we challenged the JMM in its stronghold, we weaned away core voters from them, we strengthened our organisation, and we took development programmes to the people.”

Since the 2014 Assembly polls, byelection has happened on four seats of the region. Out of the four, the BJP managed to win only one seat in Godda, which was essentially a retention. However, there is a difference between Godda and Litipara.

Unlike Litipara, in Godda, there was an element of “sympathy vote” as the winner was the son of the sitting MLA on whose death the bypolls needed to be conducted.

Hence, in coming days, it would be interesting to see how things unfold, and most importantly, how the bypoll results will impact the ongoing movements by Adivasis and the unification of opposition parties.

And this is important because in 2014, for the first time (since the creation of Jharkhand), BJP came to power with a clear majority and brought in a non-tribal chief minister.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 15 April 2017, 15:06 IST