Within hours after Babulal Marandi was elected as BJP legislative party leader and therefore the leader of opposition in the Jharkhand legislative assembly, the party has appointed State unit General Secretary Deepak Prakash as state president. Prakash, a prominent non-tribal leader in the state, will replace Laxman Gilua, who resigned after party’s defeat in the 2019 assembly election.
A few days ago, former Chief Minister, Babulal Marandi, who also happens to be the first CM of the Jharkhand state- carved out of Bihar in 2000-, announced his return to the BJP fourteen years after severing ties with the party. He has declared the immediate merger of his party- Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) with the BJP.
Now BJP has a perfect combination with a tribal being leader of the opposition and an Upper caste, Deepak Prakash, as the party state president. Prakash, who is a Kayastha, is expected to bring back the upper caste votes in BJP fold.
In the last assembly election, the upper caste voters, who traditionally vote for BJP and did the same in the 2019 general election, chose not to vote for Raghubar Das. Das, an OBC leader who sidelined upper caste BJP leaders, was seen a corrupt arrogant leader who sidelined old BJP guards like Saryu Roy.
After winning the Jharkhand polls in 2014 on Modi wave, the BJP appointed a non-tribal face, Raghubar Das, Chief Minister. In the last two decades, Jharkhand always had a tribal chief minister, even when BJP- a party which draws the majority of its support base among the non-tribal population of the state- was in power. Tribals constitute 28 per cent of the state’s population and could swing results on around half of the seats. Any party could not win the state- at least the assembly election- if tribal people are alienated.
A few decisions by Raghubar Das government, like an attempt to amend the Chota Nagpur tenancy act, have alienated the tribal population from BJP. The amendment, seen as the government’s attempt to sale the tribal land to non-tribal population, hurt BJP very badly. This led to the party losing substantially in the tribal-dominated areas of the state. The party won only two out of 28 such seats in the state of Jharkhand.
Babulal Marandi’s return to the BJP fold is, therefore, major course correction for the party. Babulal Marandi was the first tribal Chief Minister of the state of Jharkhand, something that is going to augur well for the BJP which would want to make a strong comeback in the tribal-dominated areas.
The President of what will now be the erstwhile JVM (P), Babulal Marandi was an RSS worker when he first rose in the state in the late 1990s. He had also defeated the JMM chief, Shibu Soren in the 1998 Lok Sabha Elections, which shows the kind of popularity that he has traditionally enjoyed in the tribal-dominated areas of Jharkhand.
The appointment of Prakash as state BJP chief will give the leadership of the party completely to Babulal Marandi faction, as Prakash is a long-time ally of Marandi. When Marandi left BJP in 2006 to form JVM, Prakash was among prominent BJP leaders who joined him; however, Prakash returned to BJP after few years and since then have played important role in party leadership. He played an instrumental role in convincing Marandi to join BJP and now he has been rewarded with party president role.
Prakash also enjoys a good rapport with party president J P Nadda whose father, N L Nadda, was vice-chancellor of Ranchi University from 1978 to 1980 when Prakash became active in electoral politics. Prakash is expected to infuse fresh vigour in the party and consolidate core vote bank. “We lost election but that doesn’t mean the BJP is out,” he said. “We will bounce back and the BJP will play the role of a fiery and constructive Opposition. The JMM-led alliance with the Congress and RJD got 52 lakh votes whereas the BJP got 50 lakh; this is not a big gap.”