Post Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s return to the NDA fold, Babulal Marandi, a strong tribal leader from neighbouring Jharkhand, who deserted the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2006, is keen for ghar wapsi (homecoming), if offered a “good deal”. Though not officially confirmed, sources close to Marandi said if Nitish Kumar, who had given the call of “Sangh-mukt Bharat” can return to the NDA, why cannot Marandi go back to the BJP? They said that, after all, it was the BJP which made him a Union Minister and then the Chief Minister in 2000, when Jharkhand came into existence. After parting ways with the BJP in 2006, for being sidelined, he floated the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM).
Marandi is close to Nitish Kumar, who has addressed over half a dozen rallies in Jharkhand, with him in the last one year, propagating his “liquor ban” message. Kumar said last month that Marandi could be a good Chief Minister and implement prohibition for the well-being of the state.
Bringing Marandi back, sources said, could be a win-win situation for both. It will be good for BJP, which is looking for a credible tribal face in the tribal-dominated state, with an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. However, the source said, the “good deal” can only be the Chief Minister’s post.
The BJP has been always keen to bring Marandi back, but the latter has been resisting all such attempts. The BJP wanted him back before the Lok Sabha elections of 2014. Senior RSS leader Suresh Soni met him personally, requesting him to join the BJP. However, Marandi refused. A similar attempt was made before the Assembly elections the same year, but Marandi put a pre-condition that he had to be declared the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, which the party leadership refused to do.
Soon after the Assembly elections of 2014, the BJP tried to make Marandi merge the JVM with the saffron party. However, the merger did not materialise because of opposition from “certain elements” in JVM—specifically, the Pradeep Yadav group. Pradeep Yadav is a senior JVM leader. After that the BJP stopped negotiating with him. The JVM won eight seats in the Assembly elections, but six of those MLAs have shifted to BJP.
“The situation is different now. Those who kept the JVM away from BJP, have been marginalised. Moreover, the BJP also needs a strong tribal face in the state. Marandi, who has a clean image, continues to be immensely popular amongst both tribals and non-tribals. He is acceptable within the BJP as well. If the party leadership decides to bring Marandi back by making him CM, it will help both,” said the source.
Sources said there is considerable resentment against Chief Minister Raghubar Das in Jharkhand, after his government, through an ordinance, amended the Santhal Paragana Tenancy Act (SPTA) and Chotanagpur Tenancy Act (CTA) that prohibit the sale of tribal land to non-tribals. Sensing trouble, BJP sent senior leader Ram Madhav to get feedback on the government from the local unit of the party. As a damage control measure, the ordinance was returned by Governor Draupadi Murmu. However, the entire episode proved to be a major embarrassment for the Das government and painted it as anti-tribal. There is also resentment among the BJP MLAs over Das’ style of functioning. This was conveyed to Madhav during his visit.
The BJP leadership has been looking for a tribal face in Jharkhand with an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. It is believed that Raghubar Das could be replaced by a tribal Chief Minister. Some names doing the rounds for this are that of former CM Arjun Munda, Louis Marandi, Neelkanth Singh Munda (both state ministers), Dinesh Oraon (Speaker) and Sudarshan Bhagat (Union minister). A section within the party is also pushing the name of J.B. Tubid, a former bureaucrat, who joined the BJP before the Assembly elections.