The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and Congress combine on Monday turned the tables on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Jharkhand, six months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi came back to power with a resounding majority in the Lok Sabha elections. The saffron party had won 11 of the 14 seats in the tribal state.
However, despite PM Modi's excessive stress on BJP's development agenda, party's poll campaign in Jharkhand was filled with references to abrogation of Article 370, construction of Ram Temple after the Supreme Court verdict and most notably the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC).
On Monday, the saffron party was trumped by the JMM-led Mahagathbandhan, which was leading in 49 of the 81 seats in the state assembly; a comfortable position to form the government. With a loss of 15 seats, the BJP slipped to a distant-second, leading in 22 constituencies.
Activists working on the ground in Jharkhand are of the view that anger against the BJP had been growing among the tribals, for the saffron party was "far removed from the reality of the state."
But 27% of the Adivasi population, although very strong, alone couldn't have handed such a defeat to the ruling party. The violence against the minority groups, including Muslims and Christians, witnessed a significant rise over the past 5 years, leading to mobilisation of voters against the Amit Shah-led party.
Jharkhand, under the Raghubar Das-led government, became notorious for lynchings, with at least 22 people getting killed in cow vigilante-related cases.
Bharat Bhushan Chaudhary, an activist and a member of Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha (JJM) -- a coalition of progressive organisations -- said the saffron party pandered to violent elements regularly. "This group of men, who lynched Alimuddin in June 2017, were garlanded by Jayant Sinha after they were granted bail by a court," he said.
But it was the emphasis on national issues by the BJP during the campaign trail that caught everyone's attention.
On December 17, Home Minister Amit Shah said a sky-high Ram temple will be built in Ayodhya within four months.
At another rally, Shah questioned Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for speaking against the newly amended Citizenship law.
"Rahul Gandhi is asking 'why the current government was bringing NRC. Why are we throwing them out? Where will they go and what will they eat?'" he had said.
"Why shouldn't we? Are they (infiltrators) your cousins," Shah asked Rahul. Â
The Jharkhand elections came bang in the middle of large protests against the CAA and NRC, putting the BJP in a spot.Â
David Solomon, another activist assessing the situation on the ground, told Outlook that BJP's "nationalistic pitch" failed to impress the people of Jharkhand, for the "lack of its inclusivity."
"One must understand the state of Jharkhand was formed based on the aspiration of the tribals and these aspirations were completely ignored over the past five years," Solomon said.
In November this year, the BJP government slapped sedition charges against 10,000 people, a large number of whom were tribals, angering them even more. The Adivasis have a "rich cultural heritage", according to Solomon, and "the BJP's nationalism didn't highlight" this cultural legacy as much.Â
He says it's these ignored "tribal aspirations" that shifted the balance in favour of the JMM-Congress-RJD alliance. "Crony capitalism -- a lot of resources were diverted towards the private sector without the participation of the tribal people," he said were among the "major concerns" of the local population.
And despite private companies, the local youth couldn't get jobs, Solomon said, adding, "employment opportunities were shrinking for the locals, even for those from the general category."
"Jal, jungle, zameen form an integral part of the tribal discourse," says Solomon, adding, "it's part of their cultural legacy which they value a lot and which completely ignored by the BJP."
Siraj Dutta, who works on social policy in Jharkhand, too, reflected on how the BJP attempted to amend the local tenancy laws, adding the "public distribution system (PDS)
collapsed under the government."
On Hindutva, Dutta said: "Now, everybody understands what the BJP stands for. So, even if it doesn't talk about these things, it's a given."
For the saffron party, though, the Jharkhand setback comes close on the heels of a dramatic political turnaround in Maharashtra, where the Shiv Sena walked out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and joined hands with Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
Jharkhand is the fifth state -- after Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhatisgarh and Maharashtra in the last one year -- where the power has slipped out of its hands.
The party will now attend to issues concerning the people of Delhi, which goes to polls in February 2020.