One of the biggest challenges for PM Narendra Modi and the BJP in their way to returning to power after the Lok Sabha election 2024 is infighting in the state BJP units, a fact that is well known by now. No wonder former Chief Minister of Jharkhand Raghubar Das is being cleared out of the politics of the state by appointing him governor of Odisha with due honour.
Raghubar Das has been currently a national vice president of the BJP, and in this capacity, he has been active in politics of the state, supporting a dominant faction of the party. He was the first non-tribal Chief Minister of Jharkhand after the state was carved out from Bihar in 2000. He was chief minister of the state from 2014 to 2019, when he lost his seat due to severe infighting in the party. BJP was also thrown out of power by Mahagathbandhan led by JMM and its leader Hemant Soren became Chief Minister.
After his personal defeat from the Jamshedpur East assembly seat for the first time in more than two decades to his former colleague Saryu Rai, who fought as an Independent candidate, Raghubar Das had said that the party lost the assembly election due to a few traitors and a malicious campaign run against him.
“Jaichands are present everywhere. And the party lost due to few Jaichands. At times conspiracy succeeds. But success through conspiracy does not last for long. I have struggled to rise through the ranks and reach here. Struggle gives you power,” Das said while speaking to reporters at the BJP state headquarters in Ranchi after his defeat.
In fact, there were large scale discontentment and resentment among the BJP rank and file in the state over “wrong ticket distribution” and “high-handedness” of a section of the party backed by Raghubar Das. This section is still active, and it is not likely to become inactive merely because Raghubar Das is being sent out from the state politics.
One of the reasons of resentment among the BJP leaders was that Raghubar Das is not originally from the state but from Chhattisgarh. “They say I am a Chhattisgarhi. It is true that my roots are there but I was born here,” he had said at that time. It is to be noted that he was a former RSS functionary, and had been winning Jamshedpur East seat since 1995.
Vidhan Sabha elections were held only few months after the Lok Sabha election in 2019. BJP had won 11 Lok Sabha seats out of 14 in the state with 51.61 per cent of vote share. JMM had won 1 seat with 11.66 per cent of votes, INC 1 seat with 15.83 per cent of votes, and AJSU Party 1 seat with 4.39 per cent of votes. However, in Vidhan Sabha of 81 seats, BJP could get only 25 seats, while AJSU won Party 2, INC 16 and JMM 30 seats. BJP’s votes share was reduced to 33.37 per cent while INC’s share was 13.88 per cent, AJSU Party’s 8.1 per cent, JMM’s 18.72 per cent. It is therefore clear in the mind of the Central BJP leadership that it can not repeat its 2019 election performance in 2024, if the ongoing infighting is not kept under control. Sending, Raghubar Das out of the state politics is therefore seen as an effort by the Central BJP leadership to clear the mess created by infighting in the state BJP politics.
BJP’s infighting is not new. It was split in 2006 when party’s first chief minister of the state Babulal Marandi quit the party after he was sidelined. Marandi then founded his own party named Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) which was dissolved in 2020, and merged again with BJP. BJP central leadership has now made him state president recently in July. The party may now hope to gain from this exercise. JVM (P) had 5.08 per cent vote share in 2019 Lok Sabha election and 5.45 per cent in Vidhan Sabha election few months later.
However, reshuffle in the state BJP has not been able to contain infighting, and now the exit of Raghubar Das from state politics may also not help. Marandi group has been trying to emerge dominant, while other tribal leaders such as Arjun Munda, the Union Minister of Tribal Affairs is trying to establish his dominance in the state BJP. Other non-tribal BJP leaders have also their hopes and aspirations, even of becoming non-tribal chief minister of the state, as PM Narendra Modi had opened the door for them by making Raghubar Das the first non-tribal chief minister of the state in 2014, who was from the OBC community.
With Chief Minister Hemant Soren backing for caste census in the state, the politics in Jharkhand is set to spin in some complex direction. JMM is part of the INDIA alliance, and it has been successfully leader the Mahagathbandhan in the state. Tribal and OBC politics is taking a new shape. Mahto community, which are presently in OBC, are demanding ST status. Though they are traditional supporters of BJP, the Union Minister for Tribal Affairs Arjun Munda is opposing their demand. Hence Mahto community people are angry with Arjun Munda and indirectly with the BJP. If the situation worsens, it may impact BJP’s political fortunes at least in six Lok Sabha constituencies.
BJP’s Central leadership has been trying to minimize the infighting in the state and strengthening the BJP with open mind to welcome leaders from other political parties and former higher officials. Even yesterday, a former IAS officer and several officials, including a DSP have joined the BJP. BJP has even named a former minister as its new legislature party leader Amar Bauri after four years of absence of any in the Vidhan Sabha. Babulal Marandi was not made leader of opposition because a disqualification petition is pending against him.
BJP’s central leadership is also making other changes. Party has named JP Patel the party whip in the assembly. Naming the two was not an easy exercise for the party due to infighting, and the Union Minister Ashwini Chowbey had to met legislators in July and afterwards in this regard. These appointments have been possible only after Marandi was elevated to the state unit president, even though Speaker of Vidhan Sabha had requested the BJP to name someone four years ago.
The recent changes suggest that BJP is trying to cement the cracks in its support base among Adivasi-Dalits-OBCs of the states, apart from containing infighting. Still there is resentment among non-tribal BJP leaders in the state. It is also expected that the leaders like Saryu Ray and Amar Prit Singh Kale may be welcomed again into the party, and Marandi may bring leaders like Abhay Singh into responsible position to appease non-tribal leaders. However, the fate of BJP will still depend on containing the infighting. (IPA Service)