The day of Jharkhand

Print edition : November 25, 2000

The BJP's Babulal Marandi becomes the first Chief Minister of the State of Jharkhand, indicating a further loss of support to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha.

JHARKHAND, the 28th State of the country, was formed in the early hours of November 15, the birth anniversary of Birsa Munda, the leader of Santhal rebellion. Babulal Marandi of the Bharatiya Janata Party was sworn in its first Chief Minister at a colour ful function on the lawns of the Raj Bhavan by Prabhat Kumar amidst the bursting of firecrackers and the beating of drums. Present on the occasion were Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, Defence Minister George Fernandes, Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha, A griculture Minister Nitish Kumar, Civil Aviation Minister Sharad Yadav, Union Ministers of State Digvijay Singh and Rita Verma, Karia Munda, the six-time member of Parliament from Khunti. Major Opposition parties such as the Congress(I), the Rashtriya Ja nata Dal (RJD) and the Left parties boycotted the function, which was held under tight security.

Governor Prabhat Kumar administers the oath of office and secrecy to Babulal Marandi, the first Chief Minister of Jharkhand.-PRASHANT MITRA

Earlier in the day, Marandi was unanimously elected Leader of the BJP Legislature Party at a meeting attended by all the 33 party MLAs, including the nominated member of the Anglo-Indian community. The 12 legislators belonging to the other constituents o f the National Democratic Alliance supported his election.

Immediately after Prabhat Kumar was sworn in Governor of the new State, Marandi submitted to him a list of 45 NDA MLAs - 33 from the BJP, five from the Samata Party, three from the Janata Dal (United), two from the All Jharkhand Students Union supported United Gomantwadi Democratic Party (UGDP), and two from the Jharkhand Vananchal Congress (JVC). (Joba Manjhi and Sudesh Mahato of the UGDP and Samaresh Singh and Madhav Lal Singh of the JVC were elected to the Bihar Assembly as Independents.)

Prabhat Kumar took almost an hour to examine the list and then invited Marandi to form the first government. He asked Marandi to prove his majority in the 81-member Assembly within 15 days. (One seat, Ramgarh, is vacant.)

Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) president Sibu Soren also met the Governor along with some MLAs and submitted a list of 36 legislators. He told the Governor that nine more MLAs were with him and sought time to prove his majority.

(On November 16, the Chef Minister formed a 10-member Cabinet, in which he accommodated only non-BJP MLAs.)

Addressing NDA legislators, Marandi said, "By electing me you have assigned me a task of immense responsibilities. I am not all that experienced, but with the support of senior leaders and with your cooperation, I will do my best to realise the aspiratio ns of the people of Jharkhand." The BJP's national vice-president, Madanlal Khurana, who was the central observer at the BJP legislature party meeting, said that Marandi was satisfied with the fact that the party leadership had ensured that there was no dissent over the leadership choice.

PRASHANT MITRA

PRASHANT MITRA

Jharkhand Mukti Morcha president Sibu Soren (left), Karia Munda, six-time BJP MP from Kunti both of whom lost out in the race for chief ministership.

Born in January 1958 in a family of farmers at Kodai Bank village in Giridih district, Marandi graduated from Giridih College in Giridih.He later taught in a village primary school. Attracted to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) while in school, Mara ndi was thoroughly convinced of the Sangh's ideology. In 1983, he became a full-time activist of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and was assigned to work in the Santhal Pargana, with Dumka as his base. Seven years of grassroots-level work made Marandi f amiliar with the region and its people. In 1990 he joined the BJP and was made the organisation secretary of the party's Santhal Pargana unit.

In the 1991 Lok Sabha elections, Marandi contested from Dumka seat against Sibu Soren and lost. But in the 1998 parliamentary polls, Marandi defeated Sibu Soren in Dumka.

He was made Union Minister of State for Forests and Environment in the A.B. Vajpayee government and simultaneously president of the party's Vananchal unit. In the 1999 Lok Sabha elections following the collapse of the Vajpayee government, Marandi once ag ain contested from Dumka and won the seat with a huge margin, defeating his JMM rival Rupi Soren, wife of Sibu Soren. Marandi was re-inducted into the government as a Minister of State, and was assigned the same portfolio as before.

Even hours before the swearing in of Marandi, RJD president Laloo Prasad Yadav, who was canvassing support for Sibu Soren, was nursing the hope that he would be able to keep the non-NDA secular front united and the BJP-led government away from power. The battle for power began when Sibu Soren claimed the chief ministerial post. He met Prime Minister Vajpayee and several NDA leaders, including Fernandes and Nitish Kumar in Delhi to remind them of the NDA's promise made in March that should the JMM (which has 12 MLAs) extend support to Nitish Kumar in the formation of a coalition government in Bihar, the NDA would back Sibu Soren's candidature for chief ministership in the event of the formation of the Jharkhand State. (As it turned out, Nitish Kumar for med the government, though it lasted only four days, with the support of the JMM). Fernandes, the NDA's convener, however, denied any such commitment. Sibu Soren then rushed to Patna to announce the JMM's decision to snap ties with the NDA and explore th e possibility of a partnership with the RJD, the Congress(I) and the Left parties - the CPI, the CPI(M), the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) and the Marxist Coordination Committee (MCC) of A.K. Roy.

On behalf of the JMM, Laloo Prasad negotiated with four Independent MLAs whose support was required for the formation of a non-NDA government. Laloo Prasad is reported to have also made a frantic attempt to cause a split in the Samata Party and the JD(U) . Laloo Prasad and Sibu Soren assured Karia Munda, an aspirant for the chief ministerial post, support to form the government. Karia Munda appreciated their offer but turned it down.

However, unhappy at being denied the leadership of Jharkhand, Munda rejected the offer of a berth in the Vajpayee Ministry. All efforts by Laloo Prasad Yadav, who had camped in Ranchi on the eve of the swearing-in function, failed. Soren's hopes seemed t o have been dashed on November 13 when the Congress(I) Working Committee (CWC) declared that the party would not support any political party in the formation of a government in Jharkhand. The CWC, however, changed its stand at the last moment and decided to support Sibu Soren. But the JMM leader was unable to mobilise the support of 41 MLAs to demonstrate a majority. The tally of the non-NDA front remained 36 (12 of the JMM, 11 of the Congress(I), nine of the RJD, three of the CPI and one of the MCC).

Minutes before Babulal Marandi was sworn in, George Fernandes denied having made any promise to the JMM chief at any point. He told Frontline that both Laloo Prasad and Sibu Soren were two of a kind. The Minister justified the bifurcation of Bihar and launched a scathing attack on Laloo Prasad and his wife and Bihar Chief Minister Rabri Devi. He said that unemployment, poverty and the absence of development in Bihar were a direct fallout of the dishonest and inefficient administration by the RJD.

Lenin Hall in Ranchi, housing the new Assembly of Jharkhand.-PRASHANT MITRA

THE formation of Jharkhand is considered to be a great achievement of the tribal people of Chhotanagpur and Santhal Pargana, who have been agitating for statehood for 50 years. The new State which comprises 18 districts of south Bihar - Ranchi, Gumla, Lo hardaga, East Singbhum, West Singbhum, Hazaribagh, Giridih, Koderrma, Chatra, Dhanbad, Bokaro, Palamau, Garhwa, Dumka, Deoghar, Godda, Pakur and Sahebgunj. Jharkhand covers an area of 79,638 sq km of Bihar's total area of 1,74,083 sq km.

The Jharkhand movement started with the organisational activities of the Chhotanagpur Unnati Samaj (CUS), founded in 1921, and subsequently of the Adivasi Mahasabha, founded in 1939. The CUS submitted a memorandum to the Simon Commission in 1928 demandin g a separate Jharkhand State. The CUS, an organisation of Christian Adivasi students, was reconstituted with the inclusion of non-Christian Adivasis and it assumed the name Adivasi Mahasabha under the leadership of Major Jaipal Singh in 1939. The Adivasi Mahasabha at first accorded politics a secondary role and concentrated on agitations over economic issues at hand. It was soon realised that economic problems called for political solutions. The Adivasi Mahasabha was renamed the Jharkhand Party at a con ference held in at Ranchi in 1949. The Jharkhand Party contested the first the Bihar Assembly polls in 1952 and emerged as the second largest party, by winning 35 seats.

As a leader of the Jharkhand Party, Jaipal Singh made the demand in Parliament in 1954 for a separate Jharkhand state in view of the region;s social backwardness and economic deprivation. The movement's original demand was for the formation of a separate State with 16 districts of south Bihar's Chhotanagpur and Santhal Pargana regions. The Jharkhand Party also wanted three contiguous, tribal-dominated districts of adjoining West Bengal, four districts of Orissa and two districts of Madhya Pradesh to be included in the proposed State. West Bengal, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh have, however, refused to part with any territory.

In 1955, the Jharkhand Party submitted a memorandum to the States Reorganisation Commission, reiterating the State demand. The Commission rejected the demand on the ground that the Jharkhand Party did not have a majority in the Chhotanagpur and Santhal P argana regions, and that the tribal population constituted only one-third of the total population of the region concerned and was divided into several linguistic groups.

Subsequently the Jharkhand Party suffered a series of splits. In 1970, Sibu Soren of Santhal Pargana quit the party to form the JMM, with Benode Behari Mahato as its chairman. In 1980, following differences with Benode Behari Mahato, Sibu Soren formed a parallel group, JMM (Soren), with Nirmal Mahato as its president. Soren took over as the president of the party after Nirmal Mahato was murdered in Jamshedpur in August 1987.

SOUTH BIHAR, now Jharkhand, is populated by more than 50 communities belonging to various Scheduled tribes and Scheduled Castes, such as Santhal, Munda, Oraon, Ho, Birhor, Kharia, Bhumij, Dusad, Lohar, Gond, Kuiri, Muchi, Kudmi (Mahato) and Mahali. The h istory of the Jharkhand movement, based on ethnic and regional economic demands, has been a story of splits and divisions in it, on ethnic and religious lines. The basic components/issues on which the Jharkhand identity developed have been the exploitati on of the tribal people by dikus (outsiders), the inclusion or exclusion of some communities in the list for reservation as guaranteed by constitutional provisions, the right to forest resources, and the marginalisation and displacement of populations for the sake of indust ries, river valley projects and power plants. The people belonging to various tribal communities and backward castes inhabiting this mineral-rich region have for centuries been victims of an exploitative social system. Their history, therefore, is one of not only repression, but revolt. The demand for a separate State, raised by the tribal people soon after Independence, was a natural reaction to prolonged deprivation and a manifestation of growing resentment in the tribal mind.

But more than 55 years after its initiation, the movement remains in a state of flux, riven by personality clashes and held together by only transient alignments.

The recent character history of the Jharkhand movement, marked by a multiplicity of organisations, each claiming to uphold the Jharkhand cause, merely complicated its course. It is clear that the tribal leaders concentrated more on infighting than on mob ilising support for the cause. The leaders are accused of getting influenced by electoral politics. This has been the reason for the Jharkhand parties losing their support base and the BJP building its political network throughout south Bihar.

With the outlawed MCC having already unleashed an orgy of violence in sensitive areas - the killing of Ajoy Kumar Singh, the Superintendent of Police of Lohardaga in the Perser forests on October 4, and the gunning down Archana Sharma, wife of Deepak Pra sad, Deputy Commissioner of Hazaribagh, on November 11, for instance - extremism threatens to spoil the future of Jharkhand. This apprehension, said the State's newly appointed Chief Secretary V.S. Dubey, "is real and requires urgent attention."

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