Jharkhand 2019 | BJP’s punt on multi-cornered contests poses risks

An analysis of the 2014 results, however, shows that the BJP may need to temper its confidence in the strategy.

With the first phase of the five phase polls for Jharkhand Assembly having concluded, the question that is beginning to emerge as a crucial imponderable is whether the BJP’s punt on multi-cornered contests will pay off for the party or end up hurting its electoral prospects. The ruling party’s decision to go it alone this time saw its ally, the All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU), parting ways and fielding at least 45 candidates this time.

Even as seat adjustment talks were going on, the BJP’s central leadership bet that the party was likely to benefit from multi-cornered contests and therefore announced candidates for 79 of the State’s 81 Assembly seats, including in constituencies that had previously been won by the AJSU.

An analysis of the 2014 results, however, shows that the BJP may need to temper its confidence in the strategy.

Firstly, in 2014, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) had only allied with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), while the Congress and the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM) had fought independently. This time, a coalition featuring the JMM, Congress and the RJD is expected to pose a formidable challenge, the three-party alliance’s problems in seat sharing notwithstanding.

Secondly, in 2014, there were five seats where the margin of victory was less than 1,000 votes — the BJP pocketed two of these while the JMM, Congress and the AJSU won one each. The JMM and the Congress were runners-up in three of these seats, whereas the AJSU and the BJP were runner-up in one seat each.

In the 13 seats that were won by margins between 1,000-5,000 votes, the BJP won 5, the JMM bagged two, the AJSU, the JVM and two others won a seat each. And the JMM and the BJP were runners-up in four constituencies each among these 13, with the RJD and the Congress finishing second in one seat each. Looking at this break-up, the BJP’s thesis that a multi-cornered contest would be beneficial to it, is likely to get tested to the hilt.

It is in seats where the victory margin was more than 30,000 (16 in all) that the BJP fared really well. Party leaders, however, contend that vote transfer is not a given in Jharkhand. “Just because there is an alliance among leaders does not mean that the support base will follow,” said Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das. Psephologist Abhay Kumar, formerly with the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), supports this view. The 2014 results “cannot be extrapolated on 2019”, Mr. Kumar asserted, citing the fact that the BJP had provided Jharkhand with its only full-term government over the past five years. “The BJP’s stability in governance will be important,” he added.

BJP president and Union home minister Amit Shah has, however, been referring to the AJSU as an old ally that was still a “friend” while addressing poll rallies in the State, a comment that has been interpreted by JMM chief Hemant Soren as being proof that the BJP’s solo act was set to land it in trouble. The role that the independents and the JVM may end up playing is still shrouded in uncertainty and just how much support they enjoy this time around needs to be seen. With counting for the polls set to be held on December 23, the real success of the BJP’s strategy would be determined by the electoral verdict in the State.

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