Jharkhand elections are usually decided by three M’s – Money, Muscle and Maoists – now in 2014 a fourth M dimension has been added to that mix – Modi. Everywhere one travels, one finds the evidence of the fourth M which has transformed the LS elections in this rich tribal state. In the last few weeks a host of IAS officers and top cops have resigned their high profile jobs and are joining the BJP in hordes to contest the upcoming polls which gives us enough indication of the prevailing Modi wave – former DGP (Punjab cadre) Arun Oraon of Gumla, the legendary former IG Amitabh Chaudhary and Principal Secretary Vimal Kranti Singh, IAS, are some of the examples. Many of these officers are local heroes and have a very tough record on corruption, which makes it an even more formidable combo for the Lok Sabha elections.
BJP hasn’t attracted such large numbers of new political talent into the party for over 2 decades; for instance, the last time BJP made a big tactical move in Jharkhand was in 1996, when it fielded Nitish Bharadwaj who had played the role of Krishna in the hugely popular TV series of Doordarshan’s Mahabharat, against an almost undefeatable Shailendra Mohato of JMM in Jamshedpur. Since then, most of BJP’s tickets are revolved amongst tired old faces and have nothing new to offer. Possibly, 2014 is going to be an exception and Jharkhand is where the revolution is beginning in the heartland.
To be sure, Modi has addressed only one political rally so far in this state and yet his presence can be felt everywhere. An interesting raw number probably best illuminates the NaMo popularity – 504 of the 1119 respondents polled have voted for Modi as PM, about 3 months before the actual election and with the real campaign yet to begin! This kind of support for an individual leader is unprecedented in the heartland, especially in a politically divided state like Jharkhand (For detailed methodology and raw data of OSOP-Jharkhand)
It is now clear that this Modi phenomenon means different things to different people – for backward caste voters his OBC status and humble origins as a tea-seller are of primary importance, whereas for upper caste voters it is the zero corruption of his leadership that is very attractive, but what is the most important reason that attracts all classes of voters towards Modi is his singularity politics! Two of the most oft quoted reasons as to why Modi should be the next PM were – 1) “Unka koi nahi hai” and 2) He doesn’t believe in “Bhai-Bhatijawaad” politics.
There is another very curious finding about the NaMo phenomenon that gives us great insight into the voting psyche of the heartland. A significant portion of voters belonging to the “other reasons” class of thinking for ‘Modi as PM’ have chosen “Hindutva” as a reason to vote for him. Now this is a strange reasoning as Modi hasn’t used a Hindu plank or indulged in anything remotely sectarian throughout his campaign, yet a certain section of voters identify him as a Hindutva icon. When we dig deeper, we find that most of these voters reside in areas where there is large scale presence of Muslim populace!
On the other side of the spectrum is Rahul Gandhi whose support base is almost exclusively limited to minorities and sections of Dalits – 80% of all those who want Rahul as PM belong to Muslims, Dalits and other minorities (of these 50% belong to Muslims). Curiously enough, one of the most oft quoted reasons by Muslim voters for their support to the Gandhi scion is “secularism” and its variants. Thus in areas with significant Muslim populace, Modi gets the Hindutva vote whereas Rahul gets the token secularism vote, which tells us a story of a whole new phenomenon that I have termed as Micro-Polarization!
Micro-Polarization is a new dividing line that exists only in mixed religious populations – a euphemism for various sub-regions of the heartland with significant Muslim populace. What we are seeing in Jharkhand is a polarization that is only limited to these Hindu-Muslim fault-line areas and is not a pan-regional phenomenon like the 90s when the Ram Janam Bhoomi movement had divided our society almost vertically. While Modi gets vote for lack of nepotism, non-corrupt attitude and governance (24/7 Bijlee, cure for inflation, jobs etc.) in the non-conflict Hindu zone on the one hand, he gets the polarized Hindu vote from the Hindu-Muslim fault-line zones on the other hand. This is Micro-Polarization, a 2014 phenomenon that has the potential to almost completely decimate the secular-socialist political edifice of India which is the reason why Modi evokes so much of fear among his opponents.
The peak of anti-incumbency
Our OSOP survey covered 47 polling booths spread across 21 assembly segments of 9 parliamentary constituencies with a target sample size of 1420. We achieved an actual sample size of 1119 with adequate social representation to all sections of Jharkhand society.
One of the primary findings of our survey is the tremendous levels of anti-incumbency not only against the central UPA government but also against the local state government of JMM-Congress combine. What is significant to note here is that the ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha is almost getting wiped out of the electoral scene of the state in the 2014 election which is somewhat similar to the situation in the neighboring Bihar where the ruling JDU is also facing a similar meltdown. Although Congress (due to central anti-incumbency) is also facing a big setback, this almost total decimation of ruling state parties in the Bihar region in particular and the heartland in general is a significant electoral phenomenon.
A new Modi led BJP of 2014 is not only staking its claim to the mantle of the national alternative to the Congress party, but more significantly it is emerging as the destroyer of regional ruling parties in the heartland – be it JMM in Jharkhand, JDU in Bihar, SP in UP or Congress in Uttarakhand. This is what makes the new BJP such a potent electoral force. For instance, with a 9% swing in its favor, BJP is sitting pretty in Jharkhand with a 36% vote-share, notwithstanding a substantial 18% voters still remaining undecided and a great many of them wanting Modi as the next PM of India. With the unique frontrunner advantage of the first-past-the-post electoral system and tremendous popularity of its prime-ministerial candidate, BJP can only grow further in the next few weeks leading up to elections unless it commits unpardonable blunders.
Congress on the other hand is severely limited by its exclusively minority vote-bank which will not convert into seats without weighty support from sections of Hindu voters as we have seen in the recently concluded assembly elections in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The grand old party is in real danger of drawing a blank in Jharkhand and limiting itself to a combined total of less than 15 seats in the entire heartland region! The only way forward for the party is to build a broad coalition, but even with allies like Lalu and Soren in Jharkhand, it may be very difficult to plug an almost 20% vote-share gap of the BJP. What is more, a broad anti-BJP coalition can potentially polarize the voters further and BJP may end up benefitting with more of the fence-sitters rooting for it.
Anti-incumbency against the state government in Jharkhand is so high that even the tribal consolidation in favor of Congress and allies is not happening here unlike say in Chhattisgarh (assembly elections) and Orissa as per reports emanating out of that state. While the OBCs and upper castes (roughly constituting 40% of Jharkhand voters) are solidly behind BJP, even sections of the tribal vote is going to the BJP – Oraons and Mundas have already moved to the BJP (7-9%), while other smaller groups are also now moving towards the party. Thus the entire BJP spectrum of vote is roughly in the 50%+ category which is almost undefeatable in the Indian electoral system.
In the midst of all this, Babulal Marandi is staring at glorious insignificance in a state in which he once had tremendous traction. Almost 70% of Marandi’s (JVM) voters seem to prefer Modi as the next PM, which can potentially turn into a BJP vote by the time elections are held. In fact, Koderma was one of the parliamentary seats in which our survey was conducted and the former CM is floating on thin ice here. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Marandi loses the 2014 MP election and faces political oblivion in the near future. Thus the Modi juggernaut moves into the heartland by significantly adding tribal votes to its already brimming kitty of OBC and upper caste votes. The united spectrum of Hindu vote is now falling short only in the Dalit category and the recently reported overtures of Ram Vilas Paswan could alter those dynamics too, for although Mr. Paswan no longer commands the same following as he once did but he still is the second tallest Dalit leader of the heartland beyond Mayawati.
As per our current projections based on the vote-share, BJP is ahead in 11 seats, while JMM, JVM and ‘others’ are ahead in in the remaining 3 seats each. Yet, BJP definitely has the potential to make a clean sweep of Jharkhand, provided it manages the ticket distribution process smoothly. Congress, although emerges as the number two party in terms of votes is unlikely to win any seat in Jharkhand as of today because of a sub 15% vote share – the party had won just one seat in 2009 with exactly 15% vote-share. A combination of RJD-Congress-JMM can at best make a difference in about 4 seats, so BJP is almost assured of a 9 seat haul in the state even in a worst case electoral scenario.