BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav has gone to Jharkhand to take stock of the state’s tribal community’s intensifying agitation against Chief Minister Raghubar Das’ government. Madhav will also take feedback about the CM from the party’s rank and file, believed to be unhappy with Das’ functioning.
Madhav, who was sent to Jharkhand by the BJP leadership, reached Ranchi on Saturday. He is expected to meet core committee leaders, MPs, MLAs and other party workers. He is also expected to visit Sareikella-Kharsawan, a tribal dominated area on Sunday, where he will meet district and booth level workers.
Among other things, the recent meeting of former Jharkhand Chief Minister Arjun Munda, a tribal, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, has triggered speculation about Das’ future. Munda has been “sidelined” ever since Chief Minister Raghubar Das, a non-tribal, has assumed charge of the tribal-dominated state in 2014. A senior minister in the Das government, Saryu Roy, also met Munda, increasing political temperatures.
Unrest has been building up among both Sarna and Christian tribals after the Das government, last year, amended the Santhal Paragana Tenancy Act (SPTA) and the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act (CTA) that prohibit the sale of tribal land to non-tribals, through an ordinance. The state government’s idea is to “free” the land so that tribals can sell the land on market rate. Both the Acts were enacted during the British Raj.
According to sources, the Jharkhand government’s amendment of the tenancy Acts has brought all the Opposition parties—Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Congress and the Left—on one platform. These parties held a meeting recently to chalk out the strategy to take on the BJP on the issue. The Opposition parties also organised a rally and a Raj Bhawan gherao and called a state-wide bandh. In fact, many tribal MLAs and MPs belonging to the BJP are also against the amendments. Arjun Munda has written a letter to the CM asking him to protect the interests of the tribal community.
“The BJP leadership is worried that the tribals are getting united, even on the call of not-so-big leaders. Salkhan Murmu, a former BJP MP from Odisha, recently organised a tribal rally, which was attended by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. As many as 25,000 tribals attended the rally in Ranchi,” said a source.
On 9 June, the death anniversary of the legendary tribal leader Birsa Munda, a group of 10,000 tribals from neighbouring Khunti barged into state capital Ranchi, tore BJP posters and pelted stones at the state BJP headquarters. They also vandalised the pandal at Harmu where the Making Of Developed India festival was organised in the presence of Union minister Nitin Gadkari.
According to sources in the BJP, the party leadership is worried as any backlash by the tribals may go against its prospects in the 2019 elections. Sources say that a change of guard is being considered as an option, although right now the party leadership’s focus will be on normalising the situation.
“The immediate concern is to cool tempers. The party will see if some mistake was committed while making the amendments. We should not play with the sentiments of the tribals. It should also be seen whether such moves will go against the party’s prospects in future elections,” said a senior BJP leader.
Jharkhand, it is to be noted, has seen political turmoil ever since its formation in 2000, with as many as 10 governments and three spells of President’s Rule. In 2014, for the first time, a majority government was formed in the state. So far, all the Chief Ministers have been from the tribal community, except for the current incumbent.