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GHOSTS AT BAY

By retreating on the controversial domicile issue, Mr Babulal Marandi has earned a year-end reprieve. Jharkhand’s chief minister could blame only himself for letting the issue plague his government and the people for most of 2002. The most pervading image of the year was the flames that burned on the streets of Ranchi, time and again, after the government announced its policy to identify the new state’s native population. Making 1932 the cut-off year for determining the domicile status was legally untenable, as was later proved by the Jharkhand high court holding it unconstitutional. The move made little political sense either as it rallied not just the entire opposition but also sections of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party against it. The ill-conceived policy was Mr Marandi’s attempt at competitive populism in the face of a political threat from the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. It not only backfired but also threatened to deepen the ethnic divide in the state. By agreeing to broaden the criteria for the domicile status and extending the cut-off year to 1951, he has only fended off an imminent political stalemate. But the domicile ghost may rise to haunt him in the new year unless he abandons the populist approach completely and seeks to broaden the political consensus on the issue.

Jharkhand’s other major problem of Maoist violence may not be Mr Marandi’s creation, but his handling of it left much to be desired. If the domicile fire burned in the cities, 2002 was also the year when Jharkahand’s forests and villages were soaked in blood. Perhaps the darkest symbol of this was the blood-stained forest village in Saranda, where 11 policemen were waylaid into their death-trap by the Maoists . Happening in the last fortnight of December, the incident seemed to sum up the year’s chronicle of extremist violence and the state’s failure to check it. It may not be enough for Mr Marandi to procure more paramilitary forces to deal with the extremists. What he needs is a better strategy, drawn up and executed jointly with the neighbouring states of Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal.

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