Debating India


Punishment for arrogance


Friday 4 June 2004, by RAMAKRISHNAN*Venkitesh

FORMER External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha’s initial reaction to his defeat in the Hazaribagh constituency was anything but diplomatic: "I do not know how and why the people of Jharkhand failed to see the value of the development programmes I had brought to the State." He conceded defeat to the relatively unknown Bhubaneshwar Prasad Mehta of the Communist Party of India (CPI) by a margin of over one lakh votes. Evidently, Sinha seems to believe that the people made a mistake by defeating him and his Bharatiya Janata Party colleagues in the State.

Political observers in the State point out that the smugness reflected in Sinha’s statement is one of the reasons for the BJP’s rout. The party, which held 12 of the 14 seats in the State, could retain just one seat as the Congress-led alliance comprising also the Jharkhand Mukthi Morcha (JMM), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the CPI, swept to victory in 13 seats.

The miserable performance made bold even the BJP’s smaller allies in the State government to talk about the "arrogance" of the party’s leadership. Talking to Frontline, State Electricity Minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Lalchand Mahato pointed out that "his party had repeatedly requested the State BJP to give us four seats so that we could fight the elections together but they imperiously turned down our request". In fact, Sinha challenged the Janata Dal(U) to contest all the 14 seats alone and claimed that it would not affect the BJP. "If only they had sense and fought the election in alliance with us, the results would have been different," Mahato added.

The Janata Dal(U) put up candidates in five seats after being spurned by the BJP. Predictably, their presence affected the prospects of the BJP in at least three seats. In Chatra, where Inder Singh Namdhari, the Janata Dal(U)’s tallest leader in the State, contested, the BJP was pushed to the third position. While Namdhari came second with 1,02,609 votes, the BJP candidate and State Minister for Social Justice Nagmani got 99,662 votes. The seat was won by the RJD’s Dhirendra Agarwal, who polled 1,21,464 votes. At Godda, the Congress’ Furkan Ansari won with a margin of approximately 27,000 votes. While the BJP came second, the Janata Dal(U)’s Suraj Mandal got 43,000 votes. However, the party polled only 3.8 per cent of the votes.

According to several observers, what was more significant was the aversion of the BJP leadership to come to terms with ground realities. The leadership rated the "Vajpayee factor" too high and gave more credit to the Central government’s developmental initiatives in the State than what they deserved. It also refused to give any importance to the strengthening anti-incumbency mood against the Arjun Munda-led State government and misjudged the strength of the Congress-RJD-JMM-CPI alliance. Above all, throughout the campaign, internal bickering between the groups led by Munda and former Chief Minister Babulal Marandi spoiled the BJP’s chances.

While the Congress-RJD-JMM-CPI alliance won 45.04 per cent of the votes polled, the BJP’s vote share was 33.01 per cent. Several political analysts are of the view that the figures suggest that even an alliance with the Janata Dal (U) would not have changed the BJP’s fortunes dramatically. The formidability of the Congress-led alliance, pointed out RJD Legislative Party leader Girinath Singh, was something the BJP failed to understand. It helped even a new candidate like former Indian Police Service officer Rameshwar Oraon of the Congress to win the Lohardaga seat. Oraon defeated the sitting BJP MP, Duka Bhagat, by 70,000 votes. It also led to the collapse of a BJP bastion, Khunti, where party candidate and Union Minister Karia Munda lost to the Congress’ Sushila Kerketta.

The only consolation for the BJP was the victory of Babulal Marandi, who was unceremoniously dislodged from the Chief Minister’s chair 14 months ago. He won from Koderma by 1.54 lakh votes. Interestingly, Marandi was one of the few candidates who did not project the "achievements of the Munda and Vajpayee governments" because he was the `rebel’ in the State BJP. But that fact, in contrast to Sinha’s superciliousness, seems to have worked with the masses.

See online : Frontline


Pic 2 : Yashwant Sinha, after his defeat in the Hazaribagh constituency.

in Frontline, volume 21, Issue 11, May 22 - Jun 04, 2004.

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