New Delhi: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Raghubar Das conceded defeat in the Jharkhand assembly elections on Monday as he lost not just the chief minister's chair but also his MLA seat, while an opposition alliance won the polls that rubbed out the saffron party's footprints in another state which backed it for Parliament just months ago.
The coalition led by the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and also comprising the Congress and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) cleared the majority mark of 41 in the 81-member assembly of the tribal-dominated state.
Till 11 pm, the combine had clinched 43 seats, two more than the half way mark, even as nine more results are to be declared.
Former chief minister Hemant Soren is set to reclaim the post that he lost to Das in 2014 after holding it for less than 18 months. With votes still being counted, the 44-year-old went to the house of his father, three-time CM and JMM chief Shibu Soren, seeking his blessings.
"Today a new chapter will begin for this state. I want to assure everyone that their hopes will not be broken irrespective of their caste, creed, religion and profession," Hemant Soren later said at a press conference that was interrupted by a salvo of firecrackers set off by supporters.
The results come as another setback for the BJP that lost Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh to the Congress last year, while Maharashtra slipped out of its hands last month after a dispute with ally Shiv Sena over their power-sharing arrangement.
During its stunning victory in the parliamentary polls this year, the saffron party had bagged 11 out of Jharkhand's 14 Lok Sabha constituencies. Raghubar Das lost his Jamshedpur (East) seat to former cabinet colleague and BJP rebel Saryu Roy, who contested as an independent candidate. About half-a-dozen ministers also met the same fate.
"This will be my defeat, not the Bharatiya Janata Party's," Das, the first Jharkhand chief minister to complete a full five-year term leading a majority government, said at a press conference. He had also previously won the Jamshedpur (East) constituency five consecutive times.
Analysts said, apart from anti-incumbency and his government's controversial land rights policies, Das being a non-tribal pick of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah – in a larger attempt to create alternative power structures in states – may have gone against him. They also pointed out that the prime minister's popularity may have failed to sway the electorate, unlike in the parliamentary polls, with local issues, economic concerns and social equations playing a decisive part this time.
Modi and Shah had campaigned extensively in the state, often bringing up national themes such as the Supreme Court decision for a Ram temple to be built in Ayodhya following a decades-long religious-political dispute, the BJP-led Centre stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special status and making contentious changes to India’s Citizenship Act that has sparked protests across the country.
Soren, who was his alliance's chief ministerial face, contested from two seats – Dumka and Barhet – and won both. The elections saw several close contests and in around half-a-dozen constituencies the margin of victory is just about a thousand votes.
The elections were held in five phases between November 30 and December 20. Most post-poll surveys had predicted that the opposition alliance would outperform the incumbent party.
In the 2014 state elections, the BJP had won 37 seats while ally All Jharkhand Students' Union (AJSU) won five. The Congress was reduced to just six seats. This time the BJP fought the elections on its own after failing to come to an agreement over sharing of seats with the AJSU.
Under a pre-poll arrangement, the JMM had the lion's share of 43 constituencies, while the Congress fielded nominees in 31. Another ally, Lalu Prasad's RJD, fought on seven seats but failed to open its account in these elections.
(With agency inputs)