Last week, indigenous Bengal, coastal Orissa and tribal Chhattisgarh became momentarily one with Jharkhand. Diverse ethnic identities merged as the self-styled messiah of the tribals — Shibu Soren, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief —led over 10,000 people in a march from Tulin in West Bengal to Ranchi in support of a greater tribal homeland.
The rallyists who thronged the Jharkhand capital in an unprecedented show of unity seemed to have driven the message “home”. The charter that the governor received at the end of the mammoth rally had a single point agenda —give us a home so that we can live and prosper together.
The JMM is at it again. After a long political isolation, it is making a valiant effort to cruise to the centrestage of ethnic politics by reviving the demand for a greater Jharkhand comprising Purulia and Bankura districts of West Bengal, Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar districts of Orissa and parts of Chhattisgarh bordering Gumla. This time, however, the party has managed to score a few points. It has been able to mobilize people and whip up a mass hysteria over the emotive issue of an undivided tribal cultural entity. The cry for merger has never been so strong. The tribals from Purulia even threatened to migrate to Jharkhand en masse if they were socially isolated from their brethren across the border.
If the simmering discontent and the show of tribal solidarity are anything to go by, then the nation is moving towards another volatile situation. An upheaval at this juncture could spell doom for the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition in Jharkhand which was trying to whip up the tribal sentiment through its domicile and reservation policy. It would also mean trouble for the Left Front in Bengal, already burdened with the revival of ultra-left militancy and tightening its belts for the panchayat polls next year.
The JMM move could have been dismissed as just another political gimmick had it not evinced support from the most unlikely “outsiders” — the Maoist Communist Centre and the People’s War — which have declared their tacit support for the issue in a communiqué released jointly by the two organizations. A two-page statement released by the MCC and PWG on October 28 states, “Two years ago when the BJP made its so called idea of Jharkhand a reality, it opted to leave out districts in Orissa, Bengal and Chhattisgarh. As a result, the integrity of the tribal cultural identity went into a tailspin. The BJP succeeded in breaking the soul of the tribals and creating a chasm between the Christian and Hindu tribals.”
The statement, which tactically did not mention Soren’s call, joined the issue by deploring the truncated tribal homeland that came into existence, it alleged, because the BJP was trying to serve its own interests. “What the colonialists failed to do, the BJP succeeded in doing by splitting the region”, the statement added.
Politics, according to Mao Zedong, is war without bloodshed. His followers in India have followed the dictum faithfully. The underground ultra-left militants here have always sought the covert support of mainstream political parties and any ruling combine. The MCC “sympathized” with Laloo Prasad Yadav and his party on the apparent logic that both shared the common social base — backwards and Dalits. Amidst its war against feudal and casteist outfits, the dreaded MCC has softened its stand even as its rhetoric against the BJP echoed in the terrains of Sasaram or Aurangabad.
In the Chhattisgarh region of undivided Madhya Pradesh, the PWG had launched a war against the Sunderlal Patwa-led BJP government in the early Nineties, killing policemen recklessly. But PWG operations became low key once the Digvijay Singh government took over Bhopal. The senior bureaucrats in the Singh government went on record saying if the Naxalites of Bastar are wiped out, at least 70 per cent of the development funds reaching the region would be misappropriated by local politicians. The words were no less encouraging to the Maoists in Bastar, who were busy punishing corrupt politicians by chopping off their hands and noses.
The PWG in Chhattisgarh has become hostile to the Ajit Jogi government for a different reason although the chief minister is a tribal. In the state, specially in Bastar, the PWG has forced 20 sarpanchs to quit and has taken over the villages in Dantewada region last month, declaring them as a liberated zone. Ironically, the sarpanches have given in tamely. “I am glad that they have taken over because there was no money from the state development agencies for the growth of the area”, a sarpanch said.
In Jharkhand, the Naxalites appear to enjoy pitting one tribal leader against the other. This was apparent in their support to Soren on his greater Jharkhand demand. Strangely, both the left militant leaders and the veteran tribal leader, Soren, have been reportedly mouthing similar criticisms against the Babulal Marandi government. The MCC-PWG have described Marandi as a “Nero” who was playing the fool when the state is burning and going downhill in matters of development. Soren similarly has branded the chief minister and blamed him for destroying the state and draining its exchequer by indulging in festivities in the second anniversary of the formation of the state. Is an alliance on the cards'
One ostensible logic for Bihar’s MCC-PWG support to the tribal movement is that the Naxalite upheaval had its roots in tribal uprising. Ever since May 25, 1967, when the first uprising took place in the Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal and was subsequently crushed, the CPI(M-L) has got rousing support from tribal leaders, especially in Bihar and Chhotanagpur. It is natural that after four decades of nurturing a grassroots base, the underground outfits should hark back to their roots and seek a like-minded ally to consolidate its base in hitherto uncharted territories.
Besides, the militants of the region have been cornered of late by a systematic crackdown launched by the Jharkhand and the Bengal administration under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. In Jharkhand, over 100 arrests have been made since the promulgation of the act in July and the ultra-left has not been able to retaliate with its usual ferocity. Similarly, in Bengal, a spate of arrests in Midnapore, Purulia and even in Calcutta have considerably demoralized the PWG.
At this juncture converging issues with political parties like the JMM could be a windfall in the long run for the reds. It would not only enhance their operation base among the tribals and the backward caste groups, but the political umbrella would also allow them space to thrive. The JMM’s legitimate political face could be an effective camouflage for the Naxalites. The immediate agenda for the ultra-left seems to be to tone down its operations and play a more responsible role by promoting education and indoctrination. Hundreds of schools, run by the organizations, have been carrying on this process of indoctrination.
But the tacit alliance is bound to make Jharkhand’s future more tumultuous as the ethnic and regional divides are deepening. A nightmarish vision of spreading shanties and reduced resources hangs over the state now celebrating its second birth anniversary. While the JMM will continue to express its anguish over the faulty map of Jharkhand, the BJP and its allies would try to reinforce their doctines of domicile and reservation in an environment which is already under severe social stress because of the tribal-non tribal divide.
The sylvan surroundings of Jharkhand will be shattered by more severe ethnic clashes, not a very happy prospect for those who had visualized the region to emerge as one of the most prosperous states. Jharkhand in its next anniversary may end up being a flashpoint in history because of the politically motivated ethnic and racial strifes.