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Tribal Movements to Sway Voting Preferences in Second Phase of Jharkhand Assembly Polls Today
Most of the 20 assembly constituencies that will see polling on Saturday are in tribal-dominated regions and have witnessed agitations by locals over the years linked to traditional rights and administrative systems.
Voters at a polling station during the first phase of Jharkhand Assembly elections in Maoist-affected Lohardaga district on November 30. (PTI)
Patna/Ranchi: Different political parties have made diametrically opposite claims about their performance in the first phase of the assembly elections in Jharkhand held on November 30. However, the real picture will emerge after the second phase of polls for 20 seats on Saturday.
The next round will decide the fate and political future of incumbent chief minister Raghubar Das, who is locked in a fierce battle with rebel Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Saryu Rai. In 2014, Rai won from the Jamshedpur West constituency, but this time he is taking on Das directly from the Jamshedpur East constituency.
Rai has raised the issue of corruption in the government, earning the wrath of the Jharkhand chief minister and top BJP leaders. He is known for his anti-corruption stance and his efforts had led to the conviction of political heavyweights Lalu Prasad Yadav, Arjun Munda and Madhu Koda in corruption cases.
The elections in this phase will be held in the South Chotanagpur division and Kolhan division comprising Saraikela-Kharsawan, West Singhbhum and East Singhbhum districts. The 20 seats going for the second phase of polling include Baharagora, Ghatsila, Potka, Jugsalai, Jamshedpur East, Jamshedpur West, Saraikela, Chaibasa, Majhgaon, Jagannathpur, Manoharpur, Chakradharpur, Kharsawaan, Tamar, Torpa, Khunti, Mandar, Sisai, Simdega and Kolebira.
The second phase is set to witness a direct fight between the BJP and former chief minister Shibu Soren’s Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) in the Kolhan region that will decide which party or combination would form the government in Jharkhand. At present, the JMM has eight assembly seats and the BJP has five out of 13 assembly seats in Kolhan.
The Kolhan and Santhal Paragana regions are considered the bastion of the JMM due to heavy concentration of the tribal gentry. The All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU) Party and Jharkhand Party have also won from Tamar and Kolebira seats respectively. But when Jharkhand Party MLA Enos Ekka was disqualified last time, the Congress nominee won the bypoll from Kolebira.
If the JMM manages to retain its seats in the Kolhan region, it would be a major jolt to the BJP, which is struggling to retain power this time. The saffron party is fighting it alone as its allies – the Janata Dal (United), Lok Janshakti Party and AJSU – are also fighting the polls independently. However, the BJP hopes to repeat its performance in the last Lok Sabha elections, in which it has performed relatively well in the Kolhan region.
The Kolhan region has generated a lot of curiosity for various reasons in the ensuing elections. It is set to witness a direct contest between chief minister Das and his bête noire Rai. At the same time, it is a test for the JMM, which has been threatened by the protagonists of the Kolhan movement seeking an independent ‘Kolhan Estate’ for the past four decades.
Till 2017, the Kolhan movement had taken centre stage when the self-proclaimed owner of the ‘Kolhan Independent Estate’ Ramo Birua was arrested on charges of sedition for hoisting the flag of Kolhan and inciting people against the country. Birua was additional deputy collector in the state administrative service of the erstwhile undivided Bihar. He had claimed ownership of the Kolhan Independent Estate by order of the British Empire and cited centuries-old British rules to substantiate his assertions. He had held a meeting two years ago and hoisted the ‘Kolhan flag’ at Bindibasa village on December 18, 2017. The agitation had also spread to Jamshedpur with a group of 50-odd people hoisting the Kolhan flag near river Kharkai in Bagbera.
In 1982-83, a group of leaders from the region under the aegis of Kolhan Raksha Sangh had even made their way to London demanding that Kolhan be given the right to interact with the British Commonwealth on its own. The leaders were booked on charges of sedition.
The claim is based on the Wilkinson’s Rule, a British-era instrument of 1837 to control the Kolhan region comprising West Singhbhum, East Singhbhum and Saraikela-Kharsawan districts of Jharkhand. Since Independence, there has been no explicit legislation setting aside the Wilkinson’s Rule. The instrument had allowed the customary laws of Munda-Manki wherein the Mundas were responsible for civil issues while the Mankis looked after the criminal issues.
Though the Kolhan agitation has subsided, leaders of the different political parties avoid talking about it when the local people seek strengthening of the traditional Manki-Munda administrative system.
Yet another movement called the Pathalgadi movement has recently been brought into focus when Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, at one of his rallies, raised the issue of the Chotanagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act. Gandhi had promised that the Congress will not allow any change in the existing legislation, which the BJP government has tried to amend.
It started nearly two years ago as people’s reaction to lack of development. They erected stone slabs with constitutional principles engraved on them and barred the entry of government officials into the villages. Several assembly constituencies like Torpa, Khunti, Simdega and Kolebira have witnessed dissension from the tribal population under the Pathalgadi movement.
According to the CNT Act, the Munda has the right to own the jungle land in Khunti-Torpa region, which goes to polls in the second phase. This region has also witnessed movements led by tribal icon Birsa Munda and Jaipal Singh. The Birsa movement in the late 1890s was focused on land and forest, the Jaipal Singh movement during 1940s-1960s resulted ultimately in the creation of Jharkhand.
(The author is a senior journalist.)
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