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Comprehensive Defeat

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The BJP’s comprehensive defeat in the Jharkhand assembly elections is first and foremost a verdict on the kind of governance provided by its Chief Minister, Raghubar Das. This fact stands out even more starkly as approximately six months ago the party had won a spanking victory during the Lok Sabha elections, getting eleven seats out of the fourteen, with its alliance partner AJSU also getting one. Before the Lok Sabha elections, too, the BJP had lost the state assembly elections in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. This is a clear example of the fact that voters, right down to the grassroots, are today entirely capable of making the distinction between issues involving national and state level elections. The Modi factor can only play a limited role in deciding the voters’ collective mind.

Analysts and representatives of the Congress and other parties are also claiming that the voters rejected the BJP’s exhortations on ‘divisive’ issues such as abolition of Article 370, the Ayodhya Temple, the CAA, NRC, etc. The BJP may have sought votes on these issues, but if it ignored what mattered to the local voters then it was grievously negligent. For a party that is so proud of its grassroots workers and booth level outreach, it is strange that it could not respond appropriately to the challenge. The blame for this must go to the local leadership and if it is the claim that the election was managed by the national leadership then it is a weakness that must be corrected.

The decision to contest the election alone, this time, without even its trusted allies like JD(U) and LJP must have, of course, been taken at the central level. Had it wanted, it could have persuaded these parties to join, but the vote share of the LS elections probably induced a false sense of confidence. If it is the BJP’s intent to build an exclusive votebank of its own, then the strategy is alright and such setbacks would be acceptable, but if this is not the case, then a rethink is necessary, particularly as elections in Bihar are approaching. It will need to be more accommodative of its allies; otherwise Maharashtra like situations can develop even after scoring victories. It is equally important for the allies to not be over-ambitious. The RJD’s performance in Jharkhand should serve as a warning signal, particularly to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.