Unless tempered with realism, ethnic politics can degenerate into a self-deluding ploy. The renewed call for a “greater Jharkhand” is one such delusion with which some politicians in Ranchi seem to be trying to fool themselves and their flocks. Leaders of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha or the All Jharkhand Students’ Union cannot but be aware that the demand makes little sense nearly three years after a separate state of Jharkhand had been carved out of Bihar. If Mr Shibu Soren of the JMM or Mr Sudesh Mahato of the AJSU still talks of a “greater Jharkhand” with three districts each of West Bengal and Orissa added to the new state, the reason must be their own political ambitions. It is one of the little ironies of Jharkhand’s politics that none of the ethnic parties which had long fought for the cause of a separate tribal state could reap the political benefit when it was finally created. It was the Bharatiya Janata Party which pushed the various Jharkhand parties to the background and became the leader of the National Democratic Alliance government in Ranchi. Although a partner of the ruling coalition, the AJSU faction, led by Mr Mahato, can only play second fiddle to the BJP, while Mr Soren, once a leading light of the Jharkhand movement, continues to be in the political wilderness. Their cry for “greater Jharkhand”, therefore, looks suspiciously like a desperate attempt to return to the centre-stage of Ranchi’s politics.
The danger, however, is that the call may send out wrong signals to the people living in the districts of Bengal and Orissa contiguous to Jharkhand. Raising false hopes among the tribals living in these districts is only a minor problem. The greater danger is that it might sow fresh seeds of mutual suspicion between tribal and non-tribal communities. It can also cause unnecessary strain in the relations between governments of three neighbouring states. Proponents of “greater Jharkhand” should know that the creation of the two new tribal-majority states of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh has taken the steam out of ethnic politics in the region. Mr Soren and Mr Mahato could actually help their own parties if, instead of trying to whip up ethnic passions on an unreal cause, they started addressing real issues confronting the people of Jharkhand. The state is fighting a grim battle against violence by Maoist rebels. Not only the government, but also all mainstream political parties have much to lose if the Maoist menace is not stamped out. The state also faces endemic poverty, which is one of the reasons for the growth of extremist politics. It certainly is no time in Jharkhand for false slogans.