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September 23, 1999


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Adivasis see through Jharkhand promise

Tara Shankar Sahay in Ranchi

The hardsell for a separate Jharkhand state by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress does not fool those to whom this promise is made. These parties are just dangling it as a bait to fulfil their political ambitions, the intelligentsia in South Bihar aver.

"The BJP and the Congress are not sincere in committing themselves to the creation of a Jharkand state. They are only creating an illusion among the Jharkhand supporters so that the latter drop their misgivings and vote for these parties," says Reverend P Topo, archbishop of Ranchi. He is the first tribal to hold the prestigious office.

Speaking to at his official residence next to St John's school, Father Topo says he is disgusted with the deviousness of the political parties on the Jharkhand issue. "I have seen through their whole game all these years and I am a sad man. The dismal truth is, these parties want to achieve their political objectives by promising something which they do not want to fulfil," he points out.

The archbishop says he wrote to three prime ministers -- Rajiv Gandhi, P V Narasimha Rao and V P Singh -- on the need to create a Jharkhand state, "but I drew a blank. They failed to respond and I have been greeted with a strange silence ever since," he reveals.

During his meeting with V P Singh, Reverend Topo was accompanied by the archbishop of Varanasi. The latter requested the National Front prime minister to take cognisance of Reverend Topo's demand for Jharkhand because he was the first-ever tribal archbishop from the region. But the two priests had to return disappointed.

Jharkhand (meaning forest tract) is the ancient name of the forest upland known as the Chotanagpur plateau. Although it spills over into Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal, its bulk (79,476 square kilometres) lies in Bihar.

Mathew Areparampil, director of Chaibasa's Tribal Research and Training Centre, contends that the clamour for a separate Jharkhand state has grown because of "the continued and systematic dispossession of the indigenous people of this area and displacement due to development projects." He says the agitation by the local people against economic and industrial exploitation has been met with State violence against the tribals in which many innocent people were killed.

Jharkhand is one of the richest areas in the country in terms of mineral wealth. It has massive reserves of coal, iron ore, mica, bauxite and limestone, copper, chromite, graphite, asbestos, kyanite, uranium, manganese, dolomite, tungsten and others. Besides, the Geological Survey of India has even found gold reserves in parts of Singhbhum district.

According to Areparampil, the natural wealth of this area "contrasts vividly with the desperate poverty of the people who inhabit it." The Jharkhand area for ages has been the homeland of aboriginal tribes like Santhals, Mundas, Oraons, Hos, Gonds, Kharias, Bhuiyas, Bhumij, Birhors, Doms, Turis, Sadans, Karams, Kumhars, Kurmis and Tamrias. They are known as Adivasis (original settlers ). They have a distinct culture and identity which they are determined to preserve.

Phoolmani Soren, a researcher in anthropology at Ranchi University, speaks out against the exploitation of the tribals. She points out that the indigenous groups constitute almost 90 per cent of the total population of Jharkhand. "But 90 per cent of the indigenous tribal groups have been crippled by the largescale exploitation of natural resources, the development of industries and mines and the commercial exploitation of the forests. The majority of them live in semi-starvation throughout the year while the remaining 10 per cent of the Jharkhand population are immigrants who have come to amass wealth for themselves," she alleges.

With the Jharkhand movement getting national attention during the late 1970s, the Congress decided to step in. In 1978 Indira Gandhi set up the Jharkhand Regional Congress Committee.

''Rajiv Gandhi included the Jharkhand issue in the party manifesto since it was dear to his mother,'' says Professor K K Tewary, the Congress candidate from the Ranchi parliamentary constituency.

"The creation of Jharkhand is a promise made by two martyrs of the Congress party and, therefore, our party under Soniaji's leadership is totally committed to its creation," Tewary asserts, adding that ''when we come to power at the Centre, Jharkhand state will be created within two months." He refuses to accept that his party, as the recent exit polls indicate, might be constrained to sit in the Opposition benches again in the next Lok Sabha.

Tewary says the change in nomenclature from Jharkhand to Vananchal by the BJP shows the saffron party's mindset. "The people know that the BJP is merely a mukhota (mask) of the RSS. The RSS is a classical fascist set-up with all its obscurantist and revivalist philosophy based on racial superiority. It wants a monolithic structure, whether civilisational, cultural, linguistic or religious. The RSS attempt all over the country is to destroy the small identities. It wants to submerge all these small identities under the Hindutva monolith," he contends.

The three-time winner from Ranchi, Ram Tahal Chowdhary of the BJP, argues that "the nomenclature of a separate tribal state is of secondary importance. What matters is its creation to which we are committed."

"Local leaders have lost credibility on the Jharkhand question by putting individual interests over the larger interest of a separate tribal state," says Reverend Beni Ekka, director, Xavier Institute of Social Studies. Reverend Ekka, who has closely monitored the Jharkhand situation for over three decades, agrees with Archbishop Topo's observation that Jharkhand leaders like Shibu Soren, Suraj Mandal and others have let the local people down on the vital issue.

"Earlier, they used to blame the missions and the missionaries for Jharkhand not becoming a reality. But having hijacked it now, these leaders have sacrificed it for their personal gains," Reverend Ekka says.

The non-tribals in Jharkhand endorse the criticism against the insincerity of the BJP and the Congress pertaining to a separate state. According to Shaid Hassan, general secretary of the Sadan Vikas Parishad, a non-tribal organisation, the Congress cannot create Jharkhand because its alliance partner, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, is opposed to it tooth and nail.

As far as the BJP is concerned, Hassan says the Samata Party, a constituent of the BJP-led National Democratic alliance is not interested in Jharkhand because it has not claimed even one out of the 14 seats which the BJP-Janata Dal (United) combine is contesting in South Bihar.

Hassan points out that the people of the proposed Jharkhand state are not particularly bothered about the nomenclature given to it. "We will change the name according to our choice once the new state is created," he points out.

However, Hassan claims that according to the 1991 census, the tribal population of Jharkhand is only 27.67 per cent with the non-tribals constituting 66.33 per cent.

He says while the non-tribals in the Jharkhand area never against tribal interests, they want equal benefits. In this context, he refers to the Dilip Singh Bhuria Commitee report ''which will make non-tribals third grade citizens."

He says the Bhuria Committee's recommendations, which seeks to give predominance to the tribals, would fuel northeast-type turmoil in Jharkhand if implemented as it is being sought to. "In such an eventuality, tribals and non-tribals would fly at each other's throats," Hassan says.

He, however, is optimistic that the Jharkhand leaders will have the Act emanating from the Bhuria Report amended so that tribals and non-tribals are treated on par.

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