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The Political Fix: Will the crowded electoral field work to the BJP’s advantage in Jharkhand?

The Political Fix: Will the crowded electoral field work to the BJP’s advantage in Jharkhand?

Welcome to the Political Fix by Rohan Venkataramakrishnan, a weekly newsletter to help guide you through India’s complex political landscape.

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The Big Story: Door ajar

A few months ago we noted that the state elections in Maharashtra and Haryana, coming so soon after India’s General Elections, seemed quite lacklustre because everyone presumed the Bharatiya Janata Party would win comfortably.

In the event, the BJP put in a disappointing performance in both states. And we were provided with an entire month’s worth of intrigue in Maharashtra, which got a BJP chief minister for just a week, only to be displaced by a former ally and an unusual alliance.

What’s more the results reinforced a growing belief that, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President and Home Minister Amit Shah have pulled off massive electoral victories at the national stage, their state record is much more mixed.

Which brings us to Jharkhand. You wouldn’t know it from paying attention to the national press, but the state is in the throes of an election, having completed two of its five polling phases. Results are not expected until December 23.

Jharkhand was only carved out of Bihar two decades ago, and the current Bharatiya Janata Party government will be the first to actually complete a full five-year term. The BJP has even pulled this off under the leadership of Raghubar Das, an Other Backward Class leader, in a state that has traditionally been led by Adivasi politicians.

The state has also seen infrastructure development, particularly in urban areas, with improvements in roads, power supply and sewer systems.

Which means the BJP starts off as front-runner.

But two things have changed.

  • One, the economic slowdown has affected Jharkhand much more than other states.
    As Mint’s examination of the recent, unreleased National Statistical Office’s survey report reveals, consumption has been hit harder and unemployment is much higher in the state now than national levels. There has been little investment, despite the stability of the BJP government and nearly half of the projects are stalled.
  • Two, the BJP is facing a different field this time.
    Its ally from five years ago, the All Jharkhand Students Union is contesting separately under the leadership of Sudesh Kumar Mahto, a decision precipitated by the BJP’s own decision to name candidates for all seats even as alliance talks were on.
    And also up against it, is an alliance of the Congress and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (along with the Rashtriya Janata Dal), which had fought separately in 2014. That alliance, with JMM’s Hemant Soren as a chief ministerial candidate, could prove to be a stiffer challenge in a state that had winning margins of fewer than 5,000 votes in 18 of its 81 seats five years ago.
    There is also the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha, under Babulal Marandi, adding another dimension to the field that will in some seats be four cornered (BJP vs AJSU vs JMM-Congress vs JVM).

The BJP is hoping this makes its job easier – a bigger split in votes means winning percentages can be lower. But it has also decided to not go all out against the AJSU, leading some to believe it expects to ally again with the party after the results are out.

If it wins the state, it will not only be a vindication for Das and a success for the OBC-led approach, it will also arrest the BJP’s string of middling to bad state results since 2017. If it loses, it will reinforce the impression that the Modi-Shah combine cannot translate national success into regional victories.

Just a few years ago, this map seemed to have saffron all over it. Could one more state blink out on December 23?

Also read: Supriya Sharma’s Talking Democracy dispatchesfrom Jharkhand.

Citizenship Amendment Bill:

The controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill is set to be taken up by the Indian Parliament over today (in the Lok Sabha, the lower house) and tomorrow (in the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House).

Currently, no one who enters India illegally can apply for citizenship. This Bill would allow Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to not be treated as illegal migrants, even if they have entered India illegally. They would also have access to a speedier citizenship process.

Why is it controversial? Because of the countries specified and because the nominally secular Indian state is picking and choosing between religious communities that are permitted to become citizens. Simply put, the Bill keeps out Muslims and only acknowledges religious persecution in Muslim countries.

The BJP claims that it has named those communities to only allow those who are victims of religious persecution. Yet it doesn’t name Rohingyas from Myanmar, a neighbouring country, for example, or even Hindus from Sri Lanka.

Read Shoaib Daniyal’s explainer on how exactly the Bill discriminates against Muslims.

We also have a handy reading list for you that goes into a number of important aspects of the Bill, including how it is connected to the flawed National Register of Citizens process.

Plus, watch this video:

Catch-up

The Reserve Bank of India lowered its GDP growth forecast to 5% for this financial year. It also surprisingly did not cut interest rates, on fears of higher inflation, which is ostensibly the metric it is supposed to target.

Meanwhile, a BJP MP said traffic jams were proof that there is no economic slowdown. For Hard Times, our series on the economy, I put together an incomplete list of excuses about the Great Indian Slowdown, which included this great Modi meme (channeling the ‘this is fine’ one) by Nithya Subramanian who does the Political Fix’s illustrations every week:

A gruesome rape-murder in Hyderabad was followed up by an ‘encounter’ of the accused. All four are dead in what the police claim was self-defence, though most believe it was an extra-judicial murder. The deaths were greeted with applause and celebration from many quarters, an outcome that, as I explain here, cannot have any positive consequences.

It is clear now that the BJP did try to exonerate Ajit Pawar, a day before they tied up with him. More proof of how the party uses investigating agencies to do its political work.

A top industrialist complained that people aren’t allowed to question Modi. Then of course, he was attacked by the BJP for having vested interests, proving his point, as Ipsita Chakravarty writes.

The Centre hasn’t been paying states the GST compensation they were promised. Though the finance minister claims the promises will be honoured, that might come with increases in tax rates at a time when demand has disappeared. Shoaib Daniyal, meanwhile, looks at the federal implications.

Bypolls in Karnataka could threaten or strengthen the BJP’s majority in the state. We’ll know the results later today.

Reports and OpEds

“The public expects an alternative to Modi. Has anyone provided that?” Sharad Pawar, the Maharashtra kingmaker, speaks to Nirupama Subramanian in the Indian Express.

This week’s long read that is giving a glimpse of Modi’s India to the West. Dexter Filkins in the New Yorker looks at the work of Indian journalist Rana Ayyub, who has sought to document the excesses and abuses of Modi’s time in power.

Onions go from Rs 4 a kilo for the farmer to Rs 40 at the market to Rs 160 at the shop. How? Parth MN in the Mumbai Mirror traces the journey of the little, politically sensitive bulb from farmer to middleman to consumer.

Demonetisation reduced consumption in rich households, but increased debt in poor ones. So says this paper by Sagar Wadhwa, of Brown University, pointing to impacts of Modi’s flagship policy move.

“The gulf between the Hindus and Muslims has, it would seem, increased over the past few decades.” This comes from Swapan Dasgupta, a Member of Parliament from the BJP, who argues in the Hindustan Times that the largest minority should not be allowed to feel “distanced from the aspirations of the majority.”

Can’t make this up

Old people complaining about the music of the younger generation is not news. Old people saying that today’s tunes are the work of the devil is also, sadly, not terribly unexpected. But specifically claiming that trance music was played by the demons in their battle against the devas during the Samudra Manthan war, an episode from Hindu mythology? Now that’s new.

Especially coming from a Member of Legislative Assembly in Goa – which gets a significant amount of visitors thanks to trance music festivals.

Here’s Vinod Paliencar.:

“Trance music is the music of demons and we want to play such music? Of the 10 Upanishads, the Katha Upanishad talks about music and it says that during Samudra Manthan, the demons and gods fought, and this music was being played as the gods lost.

Enjoy that thought of the asuras playing some Tiësto soon after the ocean has been churned as you go into this week.

Did we miss any great links? Have recommendations for books and papers that The Political Fix’s readers should know about? Send all bouquets and brickbats to rohan@scroll.in, and if you like the newsletter do share it.

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