Bread and butter issues trump nationalism, Hindutva in Jharkhand

K.V. Lakshmana, INN/New Delhi, @kvlakshman
can be contacted on [email protected]
Coming bang in the midst of nation-wide protests against CAA, the humiliating defeat of BJP in Jharkhand, sends out a huge message to the ruling BJP at the centre that economic slowdown has begun to hit the voters who are ready to keep the ideological issues on the backburner. 
It is from this tribal-dominated state that the BJP won 12 out of the 14 seats in Lok Sabha in alliance with All Jharkhand Student’s Union just six months ago – with a vote percentage of 51 percent.
The crushing defeat, at the hands of a tribal regional player and Congress, not only reinforced that the mighty BJP election machinery can be beaten but also points to the irony that the BJP’s strength has also become its biggest weakness.
Especially when it came to states, where its regional allies felt threatened and broke away, either before or after polls, like All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU) in Jharkhand this time and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra recently. The AJSU notched up a vote share of around 9 percent, which could have made all the difference. 
The one big message that rang out loud and clear from Jharkhand is that the voter wasted no time in ejecting a government that fell short of his expectations and brooked no-nonsense when it came to issues of bread and butter. 
The voter has listed out his preferences clearly as to whom he wanted at the helm at the centre and who he preferred in the state.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to be the most trusted and popular leader in the country. But even Modi could not do the heavy lifting of the BJP whose local government’s ran up a huge trust deficit and high level of anti-incumbency. If the sitting Chief Minister, Raghubar Das lost from his seat and several of his cabinet members, the anti-incumbency is clear.
Local factors and ally trouble were largely responsible for the drubbing BJP got, but it would be over-simplistic to say that the Jharkhand voter was oblivious to the happenings around him. And even if he was, Prime Minister Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah kept reminding the voters about the progress in the Hindutva agenda – banning triple talaq, abrogation of Article 370, Ram mandir and CAA. Clearly, efforts at polarization did not work. The voter spoke out loud – that his immediate concern was his bread and butter issues. 
The severe slowdown in the economy, rise in unemployment, prices of essential commodities are all issues that affect the man on the street. Pay attention to the economy and get it back on rails is the big message the voter gave. Incidentally, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha – Congress pre-poll alliance focused on local and the bread and butter issues. 
Jharkhand voters’ verdict has rejuvenated the opposition, on a high after having dented the BJP in Haryana, denied it in Maharashtra and defeated it in Jharkhand. The political landscape of the country today shows fewer states ruled by the BJP now than say two years ago. 
But the opposition can hardly be euphoric as the state assembly polls and Lok Sabha general elections are two different things altogether. On the eve of Lok Sabha polls, so to speak, in November 2018, the Congress won three states – Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh – but lost miserably in Lok Sabha in these states also.
But the Jharkhand verdict has once again reiterated the fact that BJP could be defeated, if the opposition was united. The principal opposition party, the Congress has more or less learned its lessons and is happy playing second fiddle to regional forces if it helps defeat the BJP. 
But can a pan-India opposition grouping emerge, a formation that can convince the country that it was a credible alternative to the BJP? The bridge is too far and the jury is out on this. For the BJP, Jharkhand sure was a jolt, which can force the party to do a course correct and present a humbler self to its allies and potential allies. 
The BJP will be up for another big and prestigious test in few months in Delhi against the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi and West Bengal in 2021.

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