BJP’s defeat in Jharkhand is seen as the inevitable fallout of its failed attempt to change the tribal profile of the state by social engineering. Social engineering is an attempt by the government to change the operation of institutions or the behavior of the voters in order to achieve a desired political goal.
After 2014, BJP has unleashed the process of social engineering in those states where the party was in power. Jharkhand, which is basically a tribal dominant state, was one such state. The church has considerable sway among the tribal communities. The BJP thought of creating a polarisation among the tribals on religious grounds to suit its agenda. The broader objective is to consolidate its position among non-Christian tribes and non-Muslim communities. The project, however, backfired as shown by the Assembly results yesterday. BJP won just 25 seats, a loss of 12 than its strength in 2014, in a House of 81. The JMM led alliance, consisting of Congress and RJD, emerged victorious. Hemanth Soren of JMM is all set to lead the next government.
The statehood for the tribal belt was achieved after a protracted battle waged for over seven decades. To counter the Jharkhand movement BJP floated its own version Vananchal. The Saffron party, however, could not achieve it. Finally, the Vajpayee government accorded statehood to Jharkhand in the year 2000. The chief minister has always been from the tribal communities, till 2014, when BJP deviated from the norm.
After storming to power 2014 under the new icon Narendra Modi, the BJP started aggressively perusing the process of social engineering.
Modi’s effective campaign had disrupted traditional voting behavior in India, of course, outside South India. He made many political slogans, including the one of social justice, redundant and snatched votes from every other political formation. This has emboldened the BJP to unleash social engineering in Jharkhand as well.
Instead of appointing a tribal leader as chief minister the BJP pitch-forked Raghubar Das, an OBC leader from the Teli community to head the government. But the move, too predictive given the nature of BJP politics under Modi, had not gone down well the tribal organizations.
Later, the Das government started tinkering with laws meant to give protection to the lands owned by the STs. To this effect in 2017 the Das government had brought in two bills to amend the state’s two important Tenancy Acts, the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act (CNTA) and the Santhal Parganas Tenancy Act (SPTA). The bills were meant to allow the commercial use of the tribal lands.
The Congress and JMM had opposed the moves stating that they were anti –Tribal and pro-corporate. But, the government had to put these bills on hold, following fierce resistance from the Opposition parties and tribals organizations.
Another bill that alienated the tribals from the BJP was the anti-conversion bill of 2017 which was passed into law in September. This move was mainly seen as an attempt to divide the tribal communities into religious groups.
The Jharkhand BJP, which was riding high on the Modi wave, was not in a position to decipher the message of several setbacks it had faced in the byelections held in the state.
Between December 2015 and December 18 the state faced bypolls for seven assembly seats. Though BJP could win only one seat, the party had never cared to gauze the intensity of backlash its strategies generated among the tribal communities.
Instead, the party relied heavily on the ability of chief minister Das to engineer splits in other parties. Das successfully affected a split in JVM led by Babular Marandi to bring in six MLAs. This had further damaged the image of the party among the people. Yesterday’s results bear testimony to the alienation of the party from the people in the state.
If one observes the recent electoral debacles the party faced, one could easily detect a pattern emerging against the so-called social engineering in the states. The BJP lost MP, Chattisgarh, and Rajasthan in 2018. It could not repeat its performance in Maharashtra in November 2019. In some of these states, the BJP experimented with the idea of promoting non-dominant communities and ignoring the traditionally dominant castes like Marathas in Maharashtra (Fadnavis-Brahmin), Jaats in Harayana (Manohar Lal Khattar- Punjabi Khatri). Only in Haryana, the BJP could return to power that too with the help of a regional party with a non-traditional leader.
Now in Jharkhand too, where it promoted Raghubar Das-OBC rather than a tribal leader, the plot of social engineering fell flat.
(The story first appeared in Newsmeter.in)