Raipur, May 12: In the jungles of Chhattisgarh, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Adivasi followers are still nursing dreams of a state run by the Azad Hind Fauj.
The Manjhi tribe gathered in large numbers for an ‘army’ meeting on Sunday at Durg, proudly displaying stars on their uniform.
A senior state official told The Telegraph: “They (the Manjhis) are peace-loving people and have contributed immensely to society. There is nothing unlawful in their activities.” Chief minister Ajit Jogi, too, says the Manjhis are his own people, like all other Chhattisgarh residents.
But the Manjhis have their own set of demands. They assert their tribal right to “jal, zamin, aur jungle (water, land and forest)”. The tribals also want a separate state carved out of Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra for Manjhis.
Jogi, obviously, will have none of that. A government spokesman says: “Chhattisgarh itself is a new state. Also, it is not up to us to consider the demand for a separate state.”
Netaji is thought to have met Hirasingh Deo Manjhi of Kanker district in the late 1920s, asking the tribals to drive out the British. Hirasingh accordingly raised an army running into the thousands.
News of Netaji’s death was greeted with disbelief in the region. Even Independence brought the tribals little cheer.
As the years passed, the sense of alienation grew among Manjhis in Kanker, Bastar, Gadchiroli, Sarguja and Chanderpur districts.
Hirasingh’s widow, Pulwadevi, referred to as ‘Rajmata’ here, says Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had met her husband and offered to grant “jal, zamin aur jungle” to the tribals. But nothing has resulted.
Seventy-year-old Dauram Madawai is general secretary of the “international” Samajwadi Adivasi Kisan Sainik Sangathan. He claims the organisation is an offshoot of Netaji’s Indian National Army.
Says Madawai: “Each member of the sangathan contributes to the ‘army’. We make uniforms and organise meals and meetings.” He clarified that their struggle is not violent.
Madawai said the organisation aimed at organising tribals, farmers and INA members from “all over the world”. “We may be lacking in resources but our dreams are big,” he said. The ‘army’ employs women and its meetings always end with the INA war cry of “Jai Hind”.
Manjhis were ferrymen to begin with. But in Chhattisgarh, most Manjhis now are farmers earning their livelihood by cultivating rice, wheat, and vegetables.
Few tribals own their own land – most work on others’ property. Other Manjhis make bamboo baskets and sell them in the markets.