The Collective Conscience
A tribal Tenancy Act backlash and election losses force the CM into reconciliation mode
On April 30, when Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das stood up to address the BJP’s two-day working committee meeting in Palamu in northwest Jharkhand, he surprised everyone as he spoke of his commitment to “collective leadership”. It was surprising, coming from a man who has ruled Jharkhand with an iron hand since he took over as CM in December 2014, confronting party colleagues and the Opposition alike instead of looking for a consensus on testing issues. “The central leadership, which has backed Raghubar in the past, has clearly nudged him to involve other BJP leaders in the decisionmaking process,” said a senior BJP leader in Ranchi. Das has been told to regularly hold coordination meetings with RSS and BJP leaders after the central leadership took stern note of the fact that the party had “lost two of the three byelections it contested in the past two years”.
In fact, the record says three bypoll defeats—if one adds the NDA loss of its Lohardaga seat in December 2015. Two days before the meet, RSS national joint general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale and other senior Sangh leaders had held a closed-door meeting with the chief minister. The same day they also met ex-CM Arjun Munda, perhaps the tallest tribal leader in the state BJP. Incidentally, Munda also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi recently.
The BJP’s defeat in last month’s bypoll at Litipara seemed a manifestation of Das’s inability to arrest the tribal/non-tribal divide in the state that the Opposition led by the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) has created as a reaction to the government’s move to amend the traditional Tenancy Act, one seen as against the tribal community of Jharkhand. Although Governor Draupadi Murmu is yet to give her assent to the bill and the Das government has also not pushed for it since getting the amendments passed in the assembly last November, the damage has been done. Even the BJP’s top tribal leaders like Munda have refused to back Das on the issue, making matters tough for the beleaguered CM.
Clearly, the BJP will not risk being branded as anti-tribal in a state where over a third (28 out of 81) seats in the assembly are reserved. With just over two years to go for the assembly elections, Das has a tough task ahead.
ALL ALONE CM Raghubar Das (left) and Arjun Munda at a meeting in Ranchi on May 2