However, Jharkhand’s political observers believe that if the AJSU snapped ties with the BJP rather insouciantly (bereft of the conflicts and theatrics that marked the BJP’s relationship with the Shiv Sena), it had “good” reasons to do it. “The AJSU was convinced that its own base would be significantly eroded if it continued to align with the BJP. The Mahato (Kurmi) backward caste votes were virtually a monopoly of the AJSU because, for a long time, the BJP didn’t have a credible Kurmi leader, except Ram Tahal Choudhary,” said a political analyst from Ranchi.
Choudhary, an MP from Ranchi between 1991 and 2004, quit the BJP when he was denied a ticket in 2019. “The BJP is so desperate for a Kurmi face that recently it even wooed Shailendra Mahato but failed,” the analyst added. Mahato oscillated between the Congress and the BJP at the end of his political career and is in semi-retirement.
Das’s emergence as the BJP’s unrivalled leader in Jharkhand reportedly rattled Sudesh Mahato, the AJSU president, who was persuaded to believe that sooner than later, Das would appropriate Mahato’s Kurmi votes and render his party “irrelevant”. Das is Jharkhand’s first backward caste CM. Although he’s from the Teli sub-caste, he embarked on a strategy to regroup the backward castes, including the Kurmis. AJSU Spokesperson Deosharan Bhagat confirmed the postulation and said: “The BJP wanted to harvest the entire standing crops on the fields but we decided the land must be partitioned. Our workers would have felt let down if we did not contest a majority of the seats. Contesting independently gave us the space to take our ideology and slogans down to the ground. We cannot allow Delhi and Ranchi to overwhelm Jharkhand’s villages. This time we will let villages speak their minds through the AJSU.”
Conversely, a BJP source in Ranchi said his party cadre pressured the leaders to go solo. “The logic is the more seats we contest, the higher our strike rate and the larger net seat gains.” However, given the perceived anti-incumbency against Das’ administration and issues arising from the view that he was against the tribals, the source admitted: “If we keep our 2014 vote share, we should consider ourselves lucky. The last time, we had an alliance with the AJSU, while the Congress, the JMM (Jharkhand Mukti Morcha) and the RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal) fought separately. This time, the Congress, the JMM and the RJD have teamed up. Most seats will see a direct contest. Our hopes hang on those seats that have a multi-cornered fight.” The JVM (P) is led by Babulal Marandi, who founded it after rebelling against the BJP and, like his parent party, is on his own.
What do statistics from 2014 reflect? First, the competition was close in many seats for the BJP despite the absence of straight fights. According to an analysis done by pollster Abhay Kumar, the BJP won by 1,000 to 5,000 votes in seven of 18 seats and the AJSU in one while three each of these went to the JMM and the Congress. The BJP’s best showing — with margins ranging from 100,000 to 300,000 — was recorded in 19 seats. Second, the BJP wrested rural seats with small margins and urban seats with substantially large margins. At one end of the demographic spectrum were Torpa, which the BJP lost to the JMM by 43 votes, and Borio that it picked up with a 712 margin. At the other were Ranchi that it sailed through with a margin of 58,863 votes and Bokaro with a 72,643 margin.
Although the back-fence talk was that the AJSU would return to the BJP if the verdict was inconclusive, the AJSU’s Bhagat rejected the hearsay. “Jharkhand was born out of a long agitation and we were one of the agitators. We won’t allow people’s hopes to die with short-term compromises. Our slogan is our rule, our government.” Another Sena and Mahato as another Uddhav Thackeray?