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Marandi's popularity faces a tough test within Jharkhand BJP

By Radhika Ramaseshan
October 21, 2020 10:31 IST
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Marandi returned to the BJP after 14 years and the party now wants him to lead the state unit.

But a generation of new leaders isn't familiar with him, explains Radhika Ramaseshan. 

IMAGE: Babulal Marandi. Photograph: Kind courtesy @BJYMinJH/Twitter

Raghubar Das, former Jharkhand chief minister, was celebrated as a 'promising' leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party -- in a cast that encompassed a demographic scale spanning Pramod Sawant, Goa chief minister, in his early 40s to Das, the oldest, at 65.

Das's selection was an audacious experiment that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the then BJP president, Amit Shah, went ahead with.

Das, who belonged to an OBC caste, was the first non-tribal CM of a state that has a 26 per cent Adivasi population.

After the BJP lost the assembly election in 2019 under Das’s stewardship, party leaders brought back Babulal Marandi -- Jharkhand's first chief minister after the state was created in 2000. Things were back to square one.

"Marandi was the right choice because he's our most popular leader," stated Deepak Prakash, the BJP's Jharkhand chief and Rajya Sabha MP.

A Ranchi-based political observer said: "He is the BJP's only grounded leader. The BJP was angling for Marandi before the Lok Sabha polls (2019); the ground was paved for his homecoming but vested interests scuppered the return."

It says something for the BJP’s single-minded effort to get Marandi back, after he quit in 2006, that in 2014, right after his victory, Modi reached out to Marandi and offered him a Rajya Sabha seat, something other quitters cannot hope for. Marandi refused.

"The intervening five or six years was bad for Marandi. He had no money to run his party," said a BJP source.

He formed the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha-Prajatantrik or JVM-P on whose symbol he won from the Kodarma Lok Sabha seat twice.

In February 2020, after Marandi returned to the BJP in the presence of Shah at a function in Ranchi, he faced his first test.

Assembly Speaker Ravindra Nath Mahto, who belongs to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-Congress-Rashtriya Janata Dal coalition, refused to recognise him as Opposition leader.

Marandi was elected the legislature party leader. The Speaker's contention was he won his seat as a JVM-P candidate and not the BJP's.

Aditya Sahu, the Jharkhand BJP's general secretary, called the Speaker’s move a 'conspiracy' against the Opposition.

The assembly secretariat listed Marandi as a BJP voter when the Rajya Sabha elections were conducted in June this year.

"No political party objected. There were no complaints, so why the objections now? It betrays a blatant political intent," alleged Sahu.

The concomitant effect of the deadlock was that the state information commission remained inoperative because information commissioners could not be appointed.

The process for appointing commissioners required scrutiny of the applicants by a panel that is chaired by the CM, with a Cabinet minister and the leader of the Opposition (LoP) as its members.

To overcome the stalemate over the LoP's post, the BJP toyed with the idea of getting Marandi to resign from his Dhanwar seat and contest one of the two upcoming assembly by-polls, preferably Dumka that was vacated by CM Hemant Soren, who kept Barhait -- the other seat he won.

"The plan is risky. If Marandi wins, he will be a hero. If he loses, it spells his political end," a BJP source said, adding, at 62, the leader had a long inning ahead of him.

There were other aspects to Marandi's comeback, an interesting element being the shape that the Jharkhand leadership could assume.

"The BJP has three leaders: Marandi, Das, and Arjun Munda," a political observer said.

Like Marandi and Das, Munda -- a central minister -- is a former CM, too.

Das has been inducted in BJP president J P Nadda's team as national vice-president with other ex-CMs Vasundhara Raje and Raman Singh.

"By moving Munda and Das to the Centre, the message is Marandi has got full opportunity to handle the state party.

"He is from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and still has a good equation with the Sangh," the observer said.

On the flip side, some in the BJP believed Marandi’s 'fire has extinguished'.

"He draws support only from the BJP's hardcore cadre. He cannot make inroads among the Adivasis. Only Munda has the potential and he is sidelined," a source said.

A Jharkhand MP pointed out Marandi will have to start afresh in the BJP after being out of it for 14 years.

"A new generation of leaders has come up. These leaders are not familiar with him and he doesn't know them. He will have to walk an extra mile to bond with them."

Das's appointment as vice-president, an ornamental post in the BJP's organisational hierarchy, apparently beamed mixed messages that may impede Marandi's functioning.

"The cadre thinks vice-president is a key person and Das has been rehabilitated," a source said.

Das used the perception to signal he is still a factor in state politics.

The path ahead for Marandi is strewn with thorns.

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Radhika Ramaseshan in New Delhi
Source: source
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