BJP has a tribal problem in Jharkhand

Poornima Joshi Khunti | Updated on December 02, 2019 Published on December 02, 2019

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi along with party leaders during an election rally for party candidate Bhushan Bara (Simdega) and Vikshal Kongari (Kolebira) ahead of the elections, at Simdega, in Jharkhand, on Monday   -  PTI

Conflicts over the CM’s land policies have pitted the tribals against the ruling party

BJP’s social engineering project originated and reached its zenith with the strategic appointment in 2014 of Raghubar Das, an OBC leader, as Chief Minister in this tribal State.

Five years later, the Chief Minister along with his various experiments with land and the resultant confrontations with the tribals form a bigger challenge than the ruling coalition of JMM-RJD-Congress.

Land woes


The BJP, in short, has a tribal problem in this State created for tribal welfare. About 26 per cent of Jharkhand population is tribal. The Chief Minister’s non-tribal credentials and violent conflicts over his land policies have resulted in the party having to change its thematic focus from “Ghar Ghar Raghubar (Raghubar Das in every home)” being replaced midway through the election campaign by a fresh slogan: “Jharkhand Pukara, Bhajpa Dobara (Once again BJP in Jharkhand)”.

The backdrop of the BJP’s tribal problem is the conflict that emanated from the Chief Minister’s push in November 2016 to two Bills approved by the Legislative Assembly to amend the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act (CTA), 1908 and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act (SPT), 1949 that protect the tribals’ rights over their land impose stringent restrictions on acquisition and sale of tribal land.

Pathalgarhi movement

A spate of protests and agitation widely known as the “Pathalgarhi Movement” has since spread in over 100 villages across Ranchi, Khunti and Chaibasa districts and the tribals, largely Munda and Oraon, have erected stone plaques engraved with provisions of the Fifth Schedule in the Constitution and the Panchayat (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act outside their boundaries as an assertion of autonomy and independence from the Indian Union.

Although Jharkhand’s first tribal Governor, Droupadi Murmu, refused to give her assent to the two Bills citing people’s protest and agitation, the resentment remains. The consequence is that the BJP’s State unit president Laxman Gilwa is facing a very difficult election in Chakradharpur, while the Chief Minister himself is being troubled in his home ground, Jamshedpur (East), a constituency where the BJP ideologue KN Govindacharya handpicked him to contest in 1995 and has never been lost.

This time around, the CM’s Cabinet colleague Saryu Rai, is contesting as a rebel candidate from Jamshedpur (East) and causing a great deal of consternation on the CM’s pocket-borough. Polling will be held in the second phase on December 7.

No other constituency depicts the extent of the BJP’s tribal problem than Khunti where the conflict has literally pitted a brother against his own brother. BJP’s Nilkanth Munda is seeking a fourth term from Khunti but the family of the ruling party’s face in the constituency — veteran parliamentarian Karia Munda – is bitterly divided.

Karia Munda has two sons, Jagarnath and Amarnath. Jagarnath has been persuaded to campaign for the incumbent MLA Nilkanth Munda, while Amarnath has switched sides and is busy campaigning for the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) candidate Sushil Pahan.

Further colour is provided in this epic contest by seasoned activist and tribal leader Dayamani Barla who is contesting from Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) led by former Chief Minister Babulal Marandi.

The only issue, says Barla, is the capture of tribal land by the ruling BJP through amendments in CTA and SPT Acts.

“The BJP is not coming back this time. Tribals have sworn to vote them out. The only issue here is the protection of tribals’ land rights,” Barla told BusinessLine.

Tribals unfazed

In the interiors of Khunti, where the now famous Pathalgarhi Movement began, the voters are silent and not willing to open up easily about their choices.

The reason for this is 23 FIRs, 19 of which invoke sedition charges along with kidnapping, rape and other heinous crimes mainly against tribal leaders. These FIRs, registered over the last approximately two years, have led to the arrest of 43 people and charge over 10,000 unknown people for sedition under Section 124A of the IPC.

In some villages, a boycott call for election has been given and people have buried their Aadhaar cards and Voter IDs as a mark of protest against the police crackdown.

The stone plaques outside villages remain standing while those who vote, have a clear preference for JMM.

The police, on their part, say that the Pathalgarhi Movement has subsided to a large extent and the polling would be normal in Khunti.

“It is not up to us to comment on politics. But polling percentage was high here even during the Lok Sabha elections. I see no reason why that should change now. There has been no fresh incident or trouble,” said Ashutosh Shekhar, Superintendent of Police, Khunti.

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Published on December 02, 2019
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