With the fourth of the five phases of the Assembly election in Jharkhand, the political picture of the State is getting clearer. After the polling in 50 seats in the last three phases and 15 seats in the fourth, signs of a tough fight between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the grand alliance of opposition parties Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Indian National Congress (INC) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) on 65 seats are emerging.
Especially the BJP’s performance in 20 seats in the third phase on 12 December and 15 in the fourth phase will decide whether it will return to power in the State, as the party’s spectacular victory in these 35 seats in the last election had cleared its way to government.
Chatra, Gumla, Bishunpur, Lohardaga, Manika, Latehar, Panki, Daltonganj, Bishrampur, Chhatarpur, Hussainabad, Garhwa and Bhavanthpur had gone to the polls in the first phase of the Assembly election. Bahargora, Ghatshila, Potka, Jugsalai, Jamshedpur East, Seraikela were up for grabs in the second. Kharsawans, Chaibasa, Mazgaon, Jagannathpur, Manoharpur, Chakradharpur, Tamar, Mandar, Torpa, Khunti, Sisai, Simdega and Kolebera are sensitive, Naxal-affected areas. In these phases, the BJP is facing tough competition from the opposition’s grand alliance.
BJP’s challenge in Jharkhand
According to political analyst Shyam Chaubey, BJP has a presence in the entire State, but it had won 23 seats of a total of 35 in the third and fourth phase in the last election. So, he says, it is a tough challenge to not only repeat the previous performance but also increase the tally. This time, says Chaubey, the JMM-Congress-RJD mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) is throwing at the ruling party a tough challenge even in areas where its position was weak the last time.
In the third phase of the election in Koderma, Barkatha, Barhi, Mandu, Hazaribagh, Simaria, Barkagaon, Ramgarh, Dhanwar, Gomia, Bermo, Ichagarh, Silli, Khijri, Hatia and Kanke, the mahagathbandhan candidates challenged the BJP formidably in about 15 seats.
Ranchi, considered the safest seat of BJP as it won for three consecutive terms here, is seeing City Development Minister CP Singh face a good challenge from JMM’s Mahua Manjhi who is a teacher with the reputation of a popular writer.
Raghubar Das in tri-cornered contest
In Jamshedpur East that went to the polls in the second phase, Chief Minister Raghubar Das himself is caught in a triangular contest with rebel Saryu Rai and Gaurav Vallabh of the INC.
In the fourth phase of Sindri, Bokaro Steel City, Nirsa, Dhanbad, Jharia, Tundi, Baghmara, Chandankyari, Madhupur, Deoghar, Bagodar, Jamua, Gandey, Giridih and Dumri, the BJP had won Bokaro, Sindri, Dhanbad, Baghmara, Giridih, Bagodar, Madhupur, Deoghar, Jharia Gandey and Jamua the last time whereas the Chandanakyari MLA joined the BJP later.
Staring at hung Assembly
If the BJP is able to save the seats above and win one or two seats more, the way to form the next government will be easier for it, but if it cannot save some of its previous seats, it may be difficult for the party to regain power in Jharkhand.
A senior police officer of the State said that the mahagathbandhan is giving a tough challenge in every seat, increasing the chances of a hung Assembly. He said the BJP and JMM will be the largest parties, which may, of course, come together post-poll for political exigency.
INC president in Jharkhand Rameshwar Oraon is hopeful that not only will the grand alliance form the next government, but the Congress will also perform much better than the last time.
Fifth phase important for JMM
Most of the 16 seats in the fifth phase where polling is to be held are in the Santhal Pargana, considered a JMM stronghold. Former Chief Minister Shibu Soren, the JMM founder and leader of the Jharkhand movement, is camping here and his son, JMM working president Hemant Soren, is busy campaigning here.
In this phase, the JMM and INC, contesting separately, had won nine seats in Rajmahal, Borio, Barhait, Littipara, Pakur, Maheshpur, Shikaripara, Nala, Jamtara, Dumka, Jama, Jarmundi, Sarath, Podiyya Haat, Godda and Mahagama. Two seats were won by Babulal Marandi’s party Jharkhand Vikas Morcha and five seats by BJP. The challenge for the BJP has turned more serious due to the INC-JMM alliance and less due to AJSU breaking away from the BJP, as the former ally is now considered not much beyond a family fiefdom of Sudesh Mahto, said a BJP leader.