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When Raghubar Das completes his stint as Jharkhand CM, he would have two firsts to his credit. In December 2014, following the BJP-AJSU alliance’s victory, Das become Jharkhand’s first non-tribal CM. Five years later, he is set to be the only CM to have completed a full term in office in a state known for its unstable governments and recurring spells of President’s rule since it was carved out of Bihar in 2000.
But has Das also earned the spurs to ensure Jharkhand re-elects a BJP government even after shocking re-runs of lynch mobs targeting Muslims and others, a spike in starvation deaths, recurring power outages and joblessness, all under his watch?
In the 81-member assembly, 28 seats are reserved for tribals, who also determine the results in a dozen non-reserved seats. Yet they have been the worst hit by mandatory linking of Aadhaar with the public distribution system and MGNREGA wage accounts. Exclusion of bona fide beneficiaries for want of Aadhaar has led to a rise in starvation deaths over the past three years. PM Modi visited the state last week and announced a slew of development projects, including the setting up of 400 Ekalvya Model Residential Schools for tribal students. He also announced the Kisan Maan Dhan Yojana, promising a minimum monthly pension of Rs 3,000 to marginal farmers aged above 60.
The announcement of sops weeks before the election code kicks in is not new, but does betray nervousness. Yet the state’s Opposition seems unable to launch an offensive. The Congress is a divided house. Its new state president Rameshwar Oraon took over from Ajoy Kumar, who commands a substantial following in Jamshedpur, also Das’s home turf. Kumar had resigned from the post recently, accusing party colleagues like Oraon and Subodh Kant Sahay of behaving “worse than criminals”. Oraon admits the fight ahead isn’t easy. “We will have an alliance with the JMM, JVM-P and smaller parties. The government has failed on all counts and there is anger in the public, but we have little time to show the voter that we can really give a better government,” he tells Outlook.
Former CM Shibu Soren’s JMM has also lost much ground. His son, Hemant Soren, has been touring the state, but with little success in rejuvenating the cadre. Former CM Babulal Marandi too has been struggling to keep his JVM-P afloat.
Raghubar Das may not be a Shivraj Chouhan or Raman Singh—BJP leaders who could swing assembly polls without Modi or Amit Shah’s help—but he has the advantage of an absentee Opposition. Unless voters decide otherwise.