Jharkhand and Beyond
Jharkhand is a reality now. But euphoria over the creation of the 28th state is evaporating very quickly. Thoe who opposed Jharkhand in the yester years for their class and caste bias look too enthusiastic to have a place in the new sun. The Congress party opposed it, the Laloo Yadavs opposed it, communists and socialists opposed it but all of them had no problem in celebrating the birth of the new eastern state for which hundreds of tribal activists and non-tribal progressives suffered over half a century. In reality Jharkhandis cannot gain much according to conventional measures ; it could hardly be otherwise since the main objective of radical reconstruction of Jharkhand society is missing. Tragically enough, the poor in the Jharkhand region see in the ultra-right saffron brigade their saviour. The Vajpayees being projected as ‘liberators’ of Jharkhand from the Yadavs of Bihar are going to benefit enormously in the next poll. The saffron club has virtually hijacked the Jharkhandi spirit by tactfully manipulating political vacuum created by the left and centrist forces. For the Sangh Parivar the game plan is working well as they are in a better position now to halt the march of the Church in the entire tribal belt. The christian identity of tribals faces challange, not their Jharkhandi root. Also, it seemed next to impossible for the upper caste saffronites to defeat the Yadavs in the caste-ridden Bihar. It is easier now to tackle the caste lords of truncated Bihar.
Of the three newly created states, two are waving saffron flag while the third one is managed by the Congress with a non-tribal chief minister in a state inhabited mostly by tribals. For one thing Jharkhand is no longer an exclusively tribal land ; non-tribal settlers constitute majority in many areas. The real problem lies elsewhere. The life-line of the Jharkhand economy lies in the hands of outsiders as it is the case in most of the states including West Bengal, Kerala, Assam and Tripura. Money talks and money will talk in Jharkhand too. Industrialisation in the Jharkhand region has been taking place for long due to its locational advantage and richness in mineral wealth. In truth Bihar proper is now
a purely agricultural hinterland for Jharkhand. But this is not going to loosen the grip of non-tribals over the tribal community.
The basic question in the Jharkhand region was never addressed by any political party, left or right. The alienation of tribal land since the days of the Raj has been a major source of confrontation between tribals and non-tribals. The missionaries came to Chotanagpur with bible in hands but today their church owns hundreds of thousands of acres of land while poor tribals get nothing but sermons. Non-tribal settlers apart, government agencies are the principal occupiers of prime land as they have acquired it over the years in the name of development and industrialisation.
River projects in Chotanagpur have evicted thousands of poor tribals though Narmada evictees get all the media attention. The issue of rehabilitation of the displaced is no less burning than land alienation. The controversial Chotanagpur Tenancy Act which is supposed to protect illegal transfer of tribal land demands a fresh review in the changed political context. The parties that have come to power in Ranchi are unlikely to treat Jharkhand as a different economic entity. The Congress party has a chequered history of assmilating socially backward but vocal communities into its fold through dubious means. And now the saffron party is all set to complete the unfinished job of the Gandhians.
No doubt Jharkhand has shifted governing power to new hands, though within a narrowing band of the possible. But radical political culture in Jharkhand remains elusive : how to confront the harsh economic inequalitres, to construct a mass movement that is both powerful and attentive to human concerns and suffering, the suppression of civil libertres, the destruction of nature. Progressives on many fronts do recognise the changing circumstances offered by Jharkhand, but they are in a still-fragile process of inventing radical politics to engage the possibilities.