Hemant Soren’s strategic move to ensure welfare of Adivasis leaves RSS-BJP out in cold
The Jharkhand government has taken decisions which, once ratified, will make it easier for the Adivasis to lay claim to certain rights and obtain education and jobs on a preferential basis
Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, the son of the legendry tribal leader Shibu Soren, has blown the war trumpet against the BJP’s design to turn the state into a colony of the capitalists toeing the Hindutva political line.
A large section of the upper caste Biharis who migrated to Jharkhand even before it formally became a state and the homeland of the Adivasis on November 15, 2000, embraced the BJP for the simple reason of grabbing the land and the rich resources of the tribal community. This was often done by circumventing the statutory provision under which tribal land could not be purchased.
A survey of the sale of the land during the last fifty years will unravel the truth that these people, who form a strong voter base for the BJP, used proxy tribals to purchase and grab such land. The Adivasis whose lands were acquired by the government for various projects, like SubarnRekha, have turned aliens in their own land.
Though on record the tribals have been provided with alternate rehabilitation and a place to live, the reality is that most of them were forced to migrate to adjacent districts of West Bengal and making a livelihood as casual labourers.
The earlier BJP government in the state had even ventured to allot vast tracts of tribal land to big corporate houses like that of Gautam Adani who will be producing power in Jharkhand and selling it to Bangladesh. This is only one example. A number of such corporate projects have come up in the region.
In order to check this fraud being perpetrated on the poor Adivasis, the Hemant Soren-led Jharkhand government last week decided to fix land survey records of 1932 as the basis for obtaining residential certificates for appointment in jobs and admission in the state.
Another decision taken was to increase reservation in jobs for socially and economically weaker sections to 77 per cent. This was aimed at protecting the interests of the Adivasis and solve the land question.
As per principal secretary Vandana Dadel, “The cabinet approved proposals to send these two Bills after ratification from the state Assembly to the Centre to include them in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution”. Significantly, a law in the Ninth Schedule is shielded from judicial review.
But Soren and his JMM colleagues are apprehensive of the attitude and response of the Modi government towards it. They are also wary of the judiciary’s intervention.
A senior JMM leader said, “It is important to get it included in the Ninth Schedule in the backdrop of the past experiences when the Jharkhand High Court (in November 2002) quashed the then Babulal Marandi-led government notification that stipulated that persons whose names, or those of their forefathers, figure in the 1932 survey settlement of land records would be deemed ‘domicile’ of Jharkhand, and such persons would be eligible to apply for government jobs (Class III and IV) and for admission to technical institutions”.
The HC bench headed by the then chief justice V.K. Gupta had termed the policy a case of “hostile discrimination of the public at large” while setting aside the government’s notification. There had been widespread violence across Jharkhand between tribals and non-tribals after the decision was taken.
Dadel further clarified, “The cabinet has approved the ‘Jharkhand definition of local persons and for extending the consequential, social, cultural and other benefits to such local persons Bill, 2022’. As per the Bill, people who have their ancestors’ names in the khatiyan (land records) of 1932 or before will be considered as a local inhabitant of Jharkhand.”
Besides, for those who are landless or do not have their or their families’ names in the 1932 khatiyan, the respective gram sabha would have the power to certify them based on their language and customary traditions, she said. This Bill will virtually choke the BJP and RSS drive to spread their influence in Jharkhand.
The right-wing forces have been working against the interests of the Adivasis and furthering the vested interest of the migrant non-Adivasis from the beginning. Their first move was to identify them as ‘Vanavasis’, refusing to acknowledge their Adivasi identity. This has been the most dangerous mechanism to deny them their rights on the forests and land.
Hemant Soren’s move has further strengthened the trust and confidence of the Adivasis in him. The second Bill, in particular, will enable him to check the influence of the RSS and the BJP. As per the Bill, the reservation for ST would go up to 28 per cent (from 26 per cent), OBC to 27 per cent (up from 14 per cent) and SC to 12 per cent (up from 10%).
There was jubilation among tribal groups across Jharkhand after the cabinet approved the two decisions last Wednesday. The second Bill cleared by the cabinet proposes to increase reservation in state government jobs for the socially and economically weaker sections of the society from 60 per cent to 77 per cent.
It is not that he doesn’t care for the poor non-tribals, who have also been suffering under the capitalists. He has earmarked 10 per cent reservation for EWS (economically weaker sections). With this, the total reservation for them would go up to 77 per cent.
“The cabinet has taken historic decisions. While quota for OBCs has been increased, 1932 land records as basis for domicile is also being implemented. The government is sensitive towards the needs of all sections of the society, be it the farmers, youth, teachers, constables, or the common man. We are fulfilling our election manifestos one after another,” Hemant observed.
The enthusiasm amongst the tribals could be visualised from their taking out Abhar Julus (gratitude march) across the state.
Former Tribal Advisory Council member Ratan Tirkey, who had been in the forefront of the agitation in 2002 termed it as fruition of a longstanding struggle. “Our struggle for over four decades has been realised. It is a day of celebration. The tribals had so far been cheated by mainstream parties,” he said.
The BJP’s supporters, meanwhile, are enraged with this development as it endangers the very existence of the saffron brigade in the state. Its proxy, Ekta Vikas Manch has warned of taking the issue to court. They say that those staying in Jharkhand in 2000 should have been declared as ‘locals’ instead of 1932 being the cut-off year.
Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren said in June this year that the state Assembly had passed a resolution in a special session in 2020 demanding ‘Sarna dharma code’ to be included in the Census, and submitted it through the governor to the Centre. However, no decision has been taken by the BJP-led Central government on the issue.
Meanwhile, sources close to the Jharkhand CM expressed apprehension that in the changed political situation, BJP leaders could pressurise the Governor to accept the recommendation of the Election Commission to unseat him. This coercive measure, evidently, is the only mechanism left to the Modi-Shah duo to destabilise his government after failing to make headway in a campaign to get JMM MLAs to cross over to the BJP.
Views are personal