Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren raised the issue of Sarna code, a separate religion column in census, during a meeting in Gumla district on Wednesday in the run-up to the Mandar Assembly bypolls, which is slated for June 23.
Hemant, who is facing heat from the Election Commission over office of profit row threatening his disqualification after accusation by BJP leaders, and PILs being heard in Jharkhand High Court seeking a CBI probe into the mining lease, charged BJP leaders with double standard over tribals.
“A few days (on Sunday) back BJP national president J. P. Nadda had addressed a Adivasi Rally (Birsa Vishwas Rally) at Ranchi and we saw several tribal BJP MLAs and MPs sitting silently during the meeting. All kinds of things were said, but not a single line was mentioned about the Sarna dharma code, which has been longstanding demands of the tribals and is crucial for the identity of the tribals.
“It shows their double standard behaviour. We had taken the lead in passing a resolution in a special session of assembly in 2020 demanding Sarna dharma code to be included in the Census. But no decision has been taken by the BJP led Central government on the issue,” Soren said at the meeting organised to distribute pension to beneficiaries.
Tribals in Jharkhand are Sarna followers and are nature worshippers who do not consider themselves Hindus and have been fighting for a separate religious identity in India for decades.
Implementation of a separate Sarna religious code in census surveys would allow the tribals to be identified as followers of Sarna faith. Tribal organisations have claimed that with the Centre dropping the “Others” option from the religion column for the next census, Sarna adherents would be forced to either skip the column or declare themselves members of one of the six specified religions: Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh.
“Even those religions who have less numbers have their code in the Census. Why are tribals being denied their right?” asked Soren.
Significantly, the BJP is eying to regain its hold among tribal communities by winning the Mandar byelection. The seat fell vacant after Congress MLA Bandhu Tirkey got disqualified following his conviction in a disproportionate assets (DA) case earlier this year.
Tirkey’s daughter Shilpi Neha Tirkey, 32, will be up against the BJP’s Gangotri Kujur, 58, in the election.
Sarna form over 40 per cent of the voters and along with Christians and minorities would play a deciding role in the result.
JMM central spokesperson Vinod Pandey also hinted that the JMM-led ruling alliance in Jharkhand is preparing to rake up the Sarna issue.
“We had passed the resolution in 2020 and sent it to the President through the Governor. We have again sought appointment with the President on the issue of inclusion of Sarna dharma code and all our ruling alliance MPs and MLAs would be presenting a demand for inclusion of the Sarna dharma code in the census. BJP should come out with their stand on the issue and demand their Central leadership to include Sarna in the census, if they are so keen on tribal sentiments,” Pandey said.
Meanwhile, in the meeting Hemant claimed that the state government was the only state to give pension to all widows, elderly and disabled without any restriction of age or quota system.
The chief minister announced a windfall of job opportunities in the government sector with over 55,000 vacancies in different departments to be filled up soon.
He also announced the ambitious CM Sarathi Yojana wherein the government would bear expenses of students hailing from poor backgrounds in preparing for competitive exams.