In the summer of 2004, as I travelled all over northern India and happened to be in Hazaribagh at the peak of election campaign to be a witness to Lalu Prasad Yadav addressing an election rally, I was awestruck by the sheer anger against the central government and the amount of cheering from the crowd for an opposition leader. A consummate politician enthralling the voters with native wit woven in a fastidious political narrative is a sight to behold. Lalu is one of those rare politicians who can keep the crowd in rapt attention during his speeches and it is indeed an experience that shouldn’t be missed, for his connect with his audience is second to none. “All of you who will support RJD in the next Lok Sabha election stand on one leg and raise your right arm” proclaimed Lalu, suddenly, in the midst of his diatribe against the central NDA government led by BJP. Thousands in the crowd immediately followed his orders and stood on one leg even as a sea of hands went up in the air. Then Mr. Yadav, in his inimitable style, squealed in mock anger, “You Yadavs will always remain dumb, what was the necessity of standing on one leg? You could have simply raised your hand, I had no chance of noticing from the podium whether you are standing on one leg or two!”… And there was an uproarious laughter in the crowd even as half of them tried to re-stand on both their legs, while the other half was unsure whether they should!

This incident, although funny to an outside observer, gives us an idea of the amount of control Lalu Prasad has on the Yadav psyche in the Bihar region and the general Yadav affinity to hero worship a single political leader in the heartland. Incidentally, Lalu was able to defeat the then external affairs minister, Yashwant Sinha, in Hazaribagh by a huge 1 lakh vote margin in the 2004 election (CPI, an ally of RJD, won that seat). Jharkhand on the whole was a major disappointment for the BJP and NDA in 2004 as the Congress-JMM alliance swept the state by winning 10 MP seats while BJP was reduced to a solitary MP, despite getting the highest vote-share. That MP, Babulal Marandi, later left the BJP to form his own regional outfit and the party was in danger of being totally decimated in a state that Vajpayee had gifted to the long standing demand of a people who had seen scant progress even after decades of independent Indian rule.

In 2009, BJP lost a huge 6% vote-share as was feared after the exit of Marandi, but the party increased its MP seat haul by a whopping 800% to win 8 out of 14 seats. This difficult arithmetic was made possible by the Congress’s “go it alone” policy, which met with success only in UP and failed miserably elsewhere in the heartland; as a result both JMM and Congress lost 4% and 6% vote-shares respectively. What is clearly evident from the above chart is that BJP individually maintains a clear 12% lead over its nearest rival, but is not able to maintain a similar lead in terms of actual seats because of the index of opposition unity.

In the upcoming Lok Sabha election, the real threshold for any political party/alliance is to cross the 36% vote-share which would enable a literal sweep of Jharkhand. Since Congress-JMM have an alliance and going by the last two election cycles, it is theoretically possible that the 2004 result may be repeated (of BJP winning very few seats despite an individually higher vote-share). Practical electoral politics is a completely different ball game though, for there are two important factors that are going against the UPA;

  • A combination of massive anti-incumbency against both the corruption tainted central government and the non-performing state government
  • A reasonably powerful Modi-wave all across the heartland which is creating whole new social coalitions and enabling the united spectrum of Hindu vote

The second factor is clearly evident on the ground and is also proven in the recently concluded assembly elections in the neighboring states whereas the first factor is something that needs to be elucidated more clearly. Rahul Gandhi, the lone rival to Modi, is doing a roadshow today from the same Hazaribagh town where Lalu was able to create his magic just a decade ago. What is striking this time is the lack of enthusiasm among the people to even listen to the Gandhi scion. B.K. Harisprasad, the Congress general secretary in-charge of the state has been camping in Ranchi for the last two days marshalling all the resources at his command but is still unable to create a buzz. For instance, even the posters and banners weren’t posted on the roads as late as 24 hours before Rahul’s proposed arrival. Hundreds of youth Congress workers were fanning all over the colleges and schools to gather youth but were getting a less than enthusiastic response.

Consider this; Rahul Gandhi will be spending his morning at the Ashoka hotel conference room (Ranchi) interacting with tribal women who have been given special passes with seat numbers and at least 2 of them that I talked to were mighty uncomfortable about the whole exercise. Just goes on to show how distant Rahul and Congress are from the ground realities that they choose to “export tribal women” to a five-star hotel for a useless conference with the heir apparent (in the words of a local journalist). It is indeed a far cry from the Lalu Prasad Yadav of 2004 who was able to enthrall the crowd with his earthy wit to the hubris of a Rahul Gandhi of 2014 doing photo-ops with tribal women in five-star environs. In that difference between 2004 and 2014 is also the story of an India that I have witnessed firsthand, wherein a country no longer stands on a symbolic one leg at the command of a leader but wants to not only stand on both the legs but also wants to run like never before… towards an alternate destiny.

The chaiwala from Gujarat is the new euphemism for a hitherto backward India wanting to run, after getting tired of symbolisms of both the one-leg variety and the five-star kind. This tribal, mineral rich, eternally looted state of Jharkhand is possibly showing the way for India to rediscover herself even as anecdotal evidence from ground zero suggests a huge surge of support to Modi and his politics of change. To be sure, BJP hasn’t exactly shown itself to be any different in Jharkhand in terms of governance, but nothing can be as worse as the current government in the state.

A state in deep coma

To understand the apathy of the present Jharkhand government one must really visit the state, it is an experience that will bring tears to the eyes of the most stone-hearted bigot on earth! One wonders how Rahul Gandhi can even ask people to vote for his party in this state. Everything in the state has come to a virtual standstill, no government department is functioning, nothing is happening anywhere and all you see is the tired faces of people all around you. Let me try and elucidate the deep coma that the state has been pushed into with a very important example.

Just a couple of days ago the chief secretary took stock of all the departments and made a shocking announcement in a press conference that only 30% of the budgeted expenses for development works have been utilized in the last 10 months. Yes, a visibly upset R.S. Sharma, I.A.S, told the whole world that of the 16800 Cr annual budget allocated this year for various development works, only a paltry 5050 Cr were utilized till January 31st and there was now tremendous pressure to somehow utilize the remaining 70% of the funds in the next 2 months, before the fiscal comes to an end!

Although most of the national media missed these shocking numbers (as usual), the people of the state are unlikely to forget this government for a long time to come. In fact, many people tell you that this is possibly the worst government the state has ever seen and not even the one headed by Madhu Koda showed such apathy for governance. As R.S. Sharma took different officers to task for their non-performance, he also knew that he is only addressing the symptoms of the disease, for the underlying pathology is a cancer of the political non-governance. Apparently no officer, right from the district collector to junior engineer, is safe in Jharkhand today, for he or she is not allowed to clear any files without paying a hefty fee to the political masters. The situation is so bad that many young junior level officials prefer to go on long leaves than to work for the government! No wonder that even allocated budget has remained unused to such huge proportions. What many local journalists are worried is that in the next two months most of the remaining budget would be swallowed by political corruption in a mad rush to meet the fiscal deadline.

Caste-Vote Matrix

Elections, especially in the heartland, aren’t as straight forward as the logical progression of electoral consequences for non-governance or corruption should be, for caste is a variable that cannot be ignored. In Jharkhand too, caste-vote matrix is of primary importance as a tool to analyze and understand elections. At the outset Jharkhand is a tribal state which is also the raison d’etre for the state’s formation, but scratch the surface and you will find all the colourful caste combinations that are part of the heartland politics – the Brahminical hauteur, the OBC mobilization, the Dalit imprudence, the Tribal dominance and the Muslim decadence.

The 39% of tribal voters are mainly composed of four main ethnic groups, of these Santhals constitute a 4th of all the tribals in the state with roughly 21 lakh votes which is why the Sorens enjoy so much of clout as they totally dominate the Santhal Paraganas. The other three important tribal groups are Oraon (11 lakh voters), Munda (9 lakh voters) and Ho (about 5 lakh voters). Apart from these dominant groups, there are scores of other tribes in Jharkhand with votes ranging from a few thousand (Bauri, Dom, Ghasi etc.) to a few lakhs (Bhuiya, Kol etc.). It is indeed a nightmare for a pollster to try and track all these communities so a broad spectrum of vote-weightage is used instead. Yadavs and Kurmis are the two dominant OBCs with roughly 16-18 lakh votes each, while the Telis constitute the third pole of the OBC vote with roughly 8-9 lakh votes. Among the upper castes, Brahmins have a lion’s share of vote-weightage with roughly 9-10 lakh votes. Unlike other parts of Hindi-heartland, the Muslim vote doesn’t matter much in the state which is also borne by the fact that Furkhan Ansari of the Congress party is the lone Muslim candidate to have won a parliamentary seat since the state was formed (he too lost narrowly in 2009).

One of the factors that has been responsible for BJP’s growth in central and north-central India has always been the Sangh-inspired outreach to the tribal populace which has given rich electoral dividends. Jharkhand is possibly the lone exception, for somehow BJP’s tribal strategy hasn’t taken off the way it has in the neighboring states of MP or Chhattisgarh. Congress’s ability to keep Santhal strongmen, the Sorens, politically relevant in the state for more than 2 decades has been tremendous. What has also helped the Sorens and the Congress is BJP’s mishap with Babulal Marandi – this is one of those unsavory aspects of Rajnath Singh’s leadership that will hurt the party for a long time to come, even if 2014 may push the issue below the carpet for the time being.

Our survey results should ideally tell us whether there is OBC consolidation in favor of Modi in Jharkhand too, especially, we should be able to examine the anecdotal evidence of Yadav’s moving towards BJP in a big way (for this we are trying to track specific polling booths in Chatra and Manika assembly segments of Chatra parliamentary seat using RSSI). The Kurmi vote also could be a crucial deciding factor in the 2014 election and the impact of Nitish Kumar’s split from BJP has to be analyzed. Similarly, our survey should also tell us if the Modi impact is limited only to OBCs and upper castes or whether the tribal voters are also looking towards the chaiwala from Gujarat with hope.

The geography

Jharkhand is divided into Chota-Nagpur, Santhal Paraganas, Palamu and Singhbhum (Kolhan) divisions. The Chota-Nagpur division is by far the largest and also a traditional stronghold of the BJP – it consists of the entire Ranchi-Hazaribagh-Lohardaga-Dhanbad-Koderma belt and is home to more than 50% of the state’s MP seats numbering 8. The main contest in this region is between Congress and BJP while the other players queer the pitch. BJP had won 5 of these 8 seats in 2009, while Congress had won the lone seat of Ranchi (Subodhkant Sahay) and JMM had drawn a blank. BJP’s good showing was despite the division of votes due to the presence of Babulal Marandi’s JVM (Jharkhand Vikas Morcha) which had captured 5 lakh votes in the Chota-Nagpur region alone. In fact, Subodhkant Sahay won the Ranchi seat by a margin of just 13 thousand votes while JVM had accrued 31 thousand votes.

In the 3 seats of Santhal Paraganas, the contest is mainly between BJP and JMM, but Marnadi’s outfit and Congress usually play spoilsport here; for instance, JVM got close to 3 lakh votes in 2009 and yet couldn’t prevent BJP from winning two seats, even as Shibu Soren (JMM) managed to win his traditional stronghold of Dumka. All the seats here are multi-cornered fights, so the results can go any which way even with minor shifts in vote-shares. Congress may not contest any seat this time here, although Rahul Gandhi is supposed to be still keen on Godda. There is some talk of a silent seat-adjustment between BJP and JVM, but the situation is quite fluid yet.

The lone seat of Palamu and the two seats of Kolhan divsion – Jamshedpur and Singhbhum – make up the remaining 3 MPs. Of these, Singhbhum is currently held by former CM, Madhu Koda, as an independent, while Jamshedpur is interestingly poised as JVM had annexed the seat from the BJP in a bye-election due to another former CM, Arjun Munda, vacating the seat in 2011.

In Conclusion, the richest state of India which has seen near zero progress in the last 65 years has the potential of transforming India in the new century and is central to the vision of a Modi who wants to build a powerful economic platform from where India can take-off to new heights. The importance of winning Jharkhand could be more economic than political in nature, but the new messiah of heartland needs this state far more than most of the political pundits have understood.

[This is designed as a two part series, as Jharkhand is a state that many readers would be unaware of, in terms of the electoral and political landscape. Thus Part One is essentially introductory in nature, whilst part 2 would try and analyze the survey findings]