The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has set itself the target of winning more than 65 seats in the 81-member Jharkhand assembly, is banking on the multi-cornered contest in the state to win in the five phase assembly election starting on November 30.
Results are scheduled to be announced on December 23. The party, which is fighting to retain power in the state, has not been able to iron out differences with its ally, the All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU), over seat sharing even as other National Democratic Alliance (NDA) allies, the Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) are contesting alone.
LJP president, Chirag Paswan, on Tuesday said his party will contest 50 seats in the state on its own and announced the names of five candidates for polls. He told reporters that the LJP’s offer for an alliance to the BJP went unanswered. The other ally, JDU, was the first off the block to announce that it would go alone.
Even as the BJP is downplaying friction between allies, it is hopeful that the absence of a contender to incumbent chief minister Raghubar Das from the opposition could work to its advantage in battling anti-incumbency and infighting.
In the state with a large tribal population, the BJP will have to defend its performance on issues such as unemployment, farm distress and economic slowdown.
The BJP, along with ally AJSU, won the 2014 assembly elections, defeating the Congress-Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) combine. The BJP won 37 seats and the AJSU, five in the 81-member assembly.
“There is no one bloc that will gain the anti-incumbency vote. There are many factions in the opposition camp as well,” a party functionary, who did not want to be named, said.
On whether the Sena-BJP fallout in Maharashtra has had an impact on the talks with allies in the poll-bound state, a state BJP functionary said the party is making sure that the pre-poll discussions leave no scope for digressions later. He also acknowledged that there has been “discomfort” over the decision to give Das a second turn.
To be sure, the opposition mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) already has the Congress and the JMM on board and is close to nearing an arrangement with the RJD. Former chief minister Babulal Marandi’s Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) has also opted to go alone.
“The party is ensuring that there is no repetition of a Maharashtra-like situation in which rebels cut into the BJP vote share and come in the way of party getting a clear majority on its own. It is also not worried about LJP and JDU contesting alone as these are allies of the NDA at the Centre,” said the state BJP functionary, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Although the party high command has indicated that Das will be leading the state unit into the electoral battle, a section within the party had expressed concern over him being the chief ministerial candidate for a second term.
“There have been reports of disagreement within the party unit at the state level. But for now the leadership has thrown its weight behind Das,” said a second party functionary who asked not to be named.
Fissures came to the fore in February, when Saryu Rai, minister of food and public distribution, wrote to BJP national president Amit Shah, expressing concern over the Jharkhand chief minister’s style of functioning. He had also alleged that the Jharkhand government was protecting the interests of a few business houses.
On Sunday, while announcing the first set of contenders for the polls, BJP working President JP Nadda endorsed Das. “Five years back, Jharkhand was known for corruption and instability. Today, under the leadership of Raghubar Das, Jharkhand is known for its stability and development. Corruption has been brought down,” Nadda said.
Even as the party refuted all allegations against Das, a second state BJP functionary said there have been concerns about the choice of contestants as well. For instance, Bhanu Pratap Shahi, a former minister in the Madhu Koda government, who is accused in a Rs 130 crore fraud, will contest from Bhavnathpur Assembly constituency and Shashi Bhushan, accused of murder, is being fielded from Panki.
JMM chief Hemant Soren said, “I will not go into the details of a gathbandhan and a mahagathbandhan, but the truth is that the BJP is worried. They have all the resources but not the people’s mandate, and that is why they are refusing to acknowledge our grand alliance.”
Sanjay Kumar of Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) said a triangular contest will benefit the BJP, which still has support in some pockets in the state. “If the allies (of the BJP) do not join the opposition then the BJP will stand to gain. A split in the anti-BJP vote will help the party,” he said.