Nyay Yatra: Rahul Gandhi's six-fold vow to Adivasi citizens

Participants in the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra celebrated Holi tribal-style with the Adivasi Nyay Sammelan, and made India's first citizens a promise

Rahul Gandhi greets the spring with vegetation and colour in the tribal tradition at the Adivasi Nyay Sammelan, Nandurbar, 12 March 2024 (photo courtesy bharatjodonyayyatra.com)
Rahul Gandhi greets the spring with vegetation and colour in the tribal tradition at the Adivasi Nyay Sammelan, Nandurbar, 12 March 2024 (photo courtesy bharatjodonyayyatra.com)

NH Political Bureau

Rahul Gandhi foregrounded yet a sixth form of injustice plaguing the nation today, promising to counter it with Adivasi Nyay (justice for tribesfolk) at the Adivasi Nyay Sammelan today, 12 March, in Nandurbar, Maharashtra.

The Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, in its 59th day today, took inspiration for its gathering from tribal spring festivities analogous to Holi—the day began with a Holika dahan bonfire—and acknowledged the indigenous people's first right to the jal, jangal, zameen (water, forests and land) of India.

Speaking at the gathering, Gandhi offered a six-fold pledge, an Adivasi Sankalp (tribal resolution), of:

  1. Sushasan (good governance): A national mission for effective implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), which will be brought back with a dedicated division, budget and action plan.

  2. Sudhar (amelioration): Withdrawal of all amendments made by the Modi government to the Forest Conservation and Land Acquisition acts. (Gandhi announced, "You will get four times the rate for your land" and the tribal rights to jal, jangal, zameen would be reinstated.)

  3. Suraksha (security): A commitment to notify all habitations where Scheduled Tribes are the largest social group as scheduled areas per Schedule VI, across all states and union territories.

  4. Swabhiman (dignity): A legal guarantee of minimum support price (MSP) for minor forest produce (MFPs) for Adivasis, analogous to that for farmers' crops.

  5. Swashasan (self-governance): Village governments and autonomous district governments, per new state laws to be enacted in conformance with the central Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act (PESA).

  6. Sub Plan: Revival of the Special Component Plan for Scheduled Castes and the Tribal Sub Plan, which had been introduced by Indira Gandhi in the late 1970s—and was abolished in 2014 by the Modi government. This has already been enacted in some states, like Andhra Pradesh, by Congress governments. (Gandhi spoke of this as a measure to protect the interests of tribal communities through financial allocations in the budget for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.)

Gandhi and the rest of the Nyay Yoddhas on this—the second, east-to-west leg of the Bharat Jodo Yatra—have been headlining a campaign for justice across India, particularly for minorities and underserved communities. So it wasn't a surprise to see Adivasi Nyay (justice for tribal communities) added to the 'five pillars' already announced in the early stages:

  • Nari Nyay (justice for women),

  • Yuva Nyay (justice for youth),

  • Shram Nyay (justice for workers),

  • Kisan Nyay (justice for farmers)

  • and Bhagidari Nyay (participative justice at a community level from the grassroots up)

Most recently, the Indian National Congress has emphasised Yuva Nyay, with a five-fold 'Rahul's guarantee' for young Indians.

Before that, it had announced the Jay Jawan scheme as counterpoint to the Agniveer scheme.

Speaking of the Sushaasan promise and the FRA today—a promise akin to that of rolling back the contentious New Pension Scheme and the controversial Agnipath scheme—Gandhi said: 'The Forest Rights Act will be brought back. The BJP weakened it, and the rights you should have on the land were not given to you. (Now) the land will be under your control again.'

On the topic of Suraksha (security), he said, "In every part of India where more than 50 per cent of the population is Adivasis, we will include it in Schedule VI. This means Adivasi people themselves will make all local decisions."

This of course segues neatly into the promise of Swashashan (self-rule or participative governance). Acknowledging the importance of tribal rights to self-determination, Gandhi made a distinction between the terms 'Adivasi', meaning original or first people, and 'Vanvasi', or forest-dwellers, the term he said was preferred by the BJP.

Gandhi said: "You say you are an Adivasi. What does that mean? It means you are the original owners of this country. When no one else was here, the Adivasi people were in India. The difference between ‘vanvasi’ and ‘adivasi’ lies in the rights to jal, jangal and zameen."

"That’s why the BJP calls you Vanvasi, and we call you Adivasi," he added.

The BJP is destroying the forests and giving them to Adani.
Rahul Gandhi, MP and Congress leader

"Slowly, all of India’s water, forests and land will be handed over to tycoons like Adani," said Gandhi. "Then the BJP will tell you that since there are no more forests, you can beg on the streets or become labourers."

That last appeared to be a sarcastic reference to the Modi government's celebration of growing self-employment and 'entrepreneurship' in a nation riddled with unemployment.

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