Down from 3 to 0, what led to BJP’s whitewash in Jharkhand’s tribal seats in LS polls


Ranchi: The likes of Union minister Arjun Munda, former chief minister Madhu Koda’s wife Geeta Koda, three-time MLA Sita Soren, and BJP ST Morcha national president Samir Oraon bit the dust as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) failed to open its account in the five tribal constituencies of Jharkhand.

Before the state went to the polls, the BJP was confident of winning all the 14 Lok Sabha seats. But, when the results came out Tuesday, the BJP failed to even retain Dumka, Khunti and Lohardaga. The two other reserved constituencies are Rajmahal and Singhbhum. 

Results show that the margin of loss in four seats — Khunti, Singhbhum, Rajmahal, and Lohardaga — were 1 lakh-plus votes. Further, BJP’s vote share has decreased in these reserved seats. INDIA bloc’s average vote share in these constituencies is 49 percent, while BJP’s vote share is 37.5 percent.

Worse, Arjun Munda lost by a margin of around 1.5 lakh votes to Congress’s Kalicharan Munda in Khunti. Arguably the BJP’s most prominent tribal leader, Munda had barely scraped past the same rival in 2019 by just 1,445 votes.

The BJP left no stone unturned to win the five tribal seats, with PM Narendra Modi addressing election rallies in Dumka, Lohardaga, and Singhbhum. BJP bigwigs J.P.Nadda, Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah also held election meetings, one after the other.

So, what was the reason for this flop show? Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) leader Hemant Soren’s arrest and resignation from the post of chief minister has backfired on the BJP, according to political analysts. The BJP has failed to build trust among the tribals as well, they added.

“The BJP raised the issues of infiltrators, politics of appeasement, and corruptions in the JMM-Congress government, but all these proved ineffective,” Shambhunath Chaudhary, a visiting faculty in the mass communication department of Ranchi’s Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee University, told ThePrint. 

Dumka and Rajmahal are part of Santhal Pargana commissionerate; Singhbhum falls under Kolhan; and Khunti and Lohardaga under North Chotanagpur.

BJP Legislative Party leader Amar Kumar Bauri alleged that the Congress-JMM combine had misled the tribals. “INDIA bloc made every effort to incite caste frenzy with the politics of appeasement. On our part, there has been a gap in conveying our message to the tribal society,” he told ThePrint. 

Also Read: Shibu Soren is sitting this election out, but ‘Guruji’s’ shadow looms large over Jharkhand politics 

Hemant factor

“Results in the tribal areas can be seen as a backfire. In fact, after the arrest of Hemant Soren and his resignation from the post of chief minister, the tribals were angry and considered it a ploy of the BJP. The mobilisation of JMM cadres and tribals has pushed the BJP back,” political analyst Rajat Kumar Gupta told ThePrint.

Arrested 31 January in a money laundering case, Hemant Soren is currently lodged at Ranchi’s Birsa Munda Jail.

“Apart from this, the tribals were emotionally attached to the issue of Sarna Code. During the elections, the BJP’s stand was under question,” Gupta said

JMM’s Kharsawan MLA Dashrath Gagrai told ThePrint that the poll results were “the answer to Soren’s arrest as part of a political conspiracy”.  “The sentiments of the tribals are hurt after his resignation from the post of chief minister,” he added.

Munda never tried to understand the questions and sentiments of the tribals in Jharkhand, the JMM legislator alleged. “That is why after the Kharsawan assembly seat, the tribals rejected him in Khunti.” 

Significance of Munda’s defeat

Apart from being a three-time chief minister, Munda served as minister of tribal affairs and of agriculture and farmers’ welfare in the 2.0 Modi government. 

Khunti Lok Sabha constituency, which falls in three districts, has six tribal-dominated assembly constituencies — Khunti, Tamar, Kharsawan, Kolebira, Torpa, and Simdega. Of these, each two are with the Congress, the BJP and the JMM.

“We won with the support of all the cadres, supporters of INDIA bloc along with tribal communities. I will work according to the sentiments of the tribals, and will also make every possible effort to solve their problems and issues,” Congress’s Kalicharan Munda, the new MP, told ThePrint. 

Koda bastion crumbles

Five-term JMM MLA Joba Majhi breached the Koda stronghold of Singhbhum where she defeated BJP’s Geeta Koda by 1,68,402 votes. Significantly, the JMM made a comeback in this seat after 33 years.

Madhu and Geeta Koda had joined the BJP in February.

What makes the win impressive is Geeta hails from the Ho tribe, which has a dominance in Singhbhum. The win of Joba Majhi, a Santhali, indicates that every tribal community has supported the JMM.

Earlier, the Kodas won from Jagannathpur assembly segment twice. But Joba Majhi left Geeta Koda behind in this segment too. “The political empire of the Kodas has been demolished,’’ Niral Purti, JMM MLA from Majhgaon, told ThePrint.

Prestige win in Dumka

The JMM has also won both the tribal seats of Santhal Pargana — Dumka and Rajmahal. 

Dumka was a prestige fight for both the BJP and the JMM. It is the seat which JMM founder Shibu Soren won eight times. The winning streak ended in 2019, when BJP’s Sunil Soren defeated the JMM chief.

This year, the contest was between Nalin Soren, a seven-time MLA from Shikaripara and the close confidant of Shibu Soren, and his boss’s daughter-in-law Sita Soren. 

A JMM MLA, Sita Soren switched to the BJP in March, alleging that she was being “neglected and isolated” in the ruling party. But, she lost to Nalin Soren by 22,527 votes.

“We have won due to the blessings of Guruji (Shibu Soren) and the hard work and unity of the JMM cadre. I had to return Guru Dakshina to Guruji by winning this seat. Guruji is also happy with this victory,” Nalin Soren told ThePrint.

The winning candidate asserted that the influence of the JMM and that of Guruji was never diminished here.

“After Hemant Soren was sent to jail under political conspiracy, we have now given a fitting answer to the BJP. It will face a crushing defeat in the assembly elections as well,” Congress Jamtara MLA Irfan Ansari said.

Jamtara falls under Dumka parliamentary constituency.

Congress returns to Lohardaga

Former PCC chief Sukhdev Bhagat trounced BJP ST Morcha national president Samir Oraon by a margin of 1,39,138 votes. The Congress had last won Lohardaga in 2004. 

In 2019, Bhagat had lost to BJP’s Sudarshan Bhagat by a margin of just 10,363 votes. Sensing the situation, the BJP fielded Oraon in place of the sitting MP but it didn’t work. Even JMM rebel MLA Chamra Linda failed to stop the Congress’s march. 

Hat-trick in Rajmahal

Vijay Hansdak notched a hat-trick of wins in Rajmahal where he defeated former BJP state chief Tala Marandi by 1,78,264 votes. He had bucked the Modi wave in 2014 and 2019 and this year, remained unscratched despite the entry of JMM rebel MLA Lobin Hembram as Independent.

His vote share has taken a steady rise as it is up from 39.88 percent in 2014, 48.47 percent in 2019, to 50.35 percent.

Barehat segment of Rajmahal parliamentary constituency is represented by Hemant Soren and Alamgir Alam represents Pakur. Both leaders are now behind bars.

“The arrest of Hemant Soren has created an uproar. Secondly, it is important that (Hemant’s wife) Kalpana Soren has handled the campaign with great skill,” senior JMM MLA Stephen Marandi, a strategist in Rajmahal, told ThePrint.

In the absence of Shibu and Hemant Soren, Kalpana Soren kept a close watch on Dumka and Rajmahal. She held more than 20 public meetings at different places in both constituencies.

The Sarna Code factor

Tribal organisations have been continuously agitating on the issue of setting a separate ‘ Sarna Tribal Religion Code column in the census survey.

In 2020, the JMM-Congress government passed the proposal of ‘Sarna Tribal Religion Code’ in the assembly. While sending this proposal to the Centre, it had mentioned that the tribal population was down from 38.3 percent in 1931 to 26.02 percent in 2011. One reason for this decreasing numbers is the lack of a separate religion code for tribals in the census, it had said. 

During the Lok Sabha elections, the JMM and the Congress had raised this issue again and tried to corner the BJP. 

“The central government has not taken any initiative so far on the demand for Sarna Dharma Code for the tribals. This is like denying the independent existence, history and struggle of the tribals. The tribals also do not like the policies of the BJP-led central government. Hence, the BJP faced defeat in tribal seats,” Adivasi Samanvay Samiti coordinator Laxminarayan Munda told ThePrint.

The Samiti leads a group of more than a dozen adivasi outfits in Jharkhand.

(Edited by Tony Rai)

Also Read: Warrior image, tribal connect—Jharkhand ex-CM Hemant Soren’s wife Kalpana is rising as a politician


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