Divisions in Congress-led alliance in Jharkhand could hurt people's movements for land rights, says Hemant Soren

  • The Jharkhand grand alliance led by Congress is being presented as the alternative to fulfill the goal of tribal-led people's movements in the state

  • People have been protesting against state govt's proposed amendments in two acts which would allow it to take over land without conducting social impact assessment

  • However, the seat-sharing formula in Jharkhand grand alliance has left the RJD upset, which could potentially affect the success of the people's movements on land rights

  • An internal contest over seat-sharing can throw a cordon of doubt over the opposition’s ability and intention to rewrite the social contract

In 2016, Hemant Soren’s Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and Babulal Marandi’s Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM) joined the people’s movements, which were launched against state-proposed amendments in key land rights acts such as the Chhota Nagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act, 1908, and Santhal Pargana Tenancy (SPT) Act, 1949. The reason behind their protests was that these acts allowed the government to easily transfer land for industrial use.

Considering the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013 had already been amended by the Centre, exempting the state government from conducting social impact assessment, taking consent of the affected people and ensuring food security, for certain infrastructure projects (listed under Section 10), the proposed amendments to CNT and SPT Acts by the BJP-led state government in Jharkhand had created speculation among its critics.

 Divisions in Congress-led alliance in Jharkhand could hurt peoples movements for land rights, says Hemant Soren

File image of Hemant Soren. PTI

However, while the Jharkhand government sees social impact assessment and consent of affected people as an impediment to development, a section of the population in the poverty-stricken state — with a history of land grabbing and illegal mining — is resisting the attempts to dilute the portion of the acts which make seeking consent mandatory from gram sabhas.

These people's movements led by tribals, who comprise no less than 32 percent of the state’s population, are an important part of the opposition parties' political narrative, including the grand alliance, who are presenting themselves to the voters of Jharkhand as an alternative to the anti-land-rights policies of the BJP-led state government.

The grand alliance announced its seat-sharing formula on Sunday. Out of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in the state, the Congress is contesting on seven — Ranchi, Lohardaga, Khunti, West Singhbhum, Hazaribagh, Dhanbad and Chatra. Jharkhand Mukti Morcha will be fielding candidates from Dumka, Rajmahal, Giridih, Jamshedpur while Jharkhand Vikas Morcha will contest from Godda and Koderma. The RJD, also a member of the alliance, on the other hand, has been offered one seat — Palamu —  against its demand for two seats (the second seat being Chatra). This has created discontent within the grand alliance with the RJD skipping the seat-sharing press conference on Sunday.

Could the grand old party have been a little more accommodating towards RJD? Palamu and Chatra border Bihar, and the population in the two constituencies comprises Bhumihars and Yadavs which is why the RJD wanted to contest on both seats. However, its bleak presence in the state Assembly has made it harder for the alliance to accommodate this request.

While the RJD is determined that the alliance accepts its demand for two seats (and field its candidates in both candidates with or without the alliance), Soren, says that the grand alliance will not field a candidate in Palamu even if the RJD is out of the alliance. "The RJD has been in alliance with us in the past and we won’t field a JMM candidate on the RJD seat on Palamu,” said Soren.

Meanwhile, the seat-sharing may have created another problem for the alliance, especially for former Jharkhand chief minister and JVM leader Babulal Marandi, with RJD’s state unit chief Annapurna Devi joining the BJP. Speculations are rife that the former RJD leader might be the BJP candidate from Chatra or Koderma.

If Devi contests from Koderma, this election may become a battle for survival for Marandi, especially since Jharkhand Speaker Dinesh Oraon recently found the merger of 6 JVM MLAs into the BJP to be legal while rejecting the JVM's petition demanding their disqualification under the 10th schedule. Besides, the Koderma district falls under the North Chotanagpur division, the largest administrative division, which has more than 20 Vidhan Sabha constituencies.

For Soren, the bigger concern, however, is how the differences among the Opposition parties, including those in the grand alliance, may impact the people's movements in Jharkhand. He says that the bifurcation within the grand alliance is a disservice to the non-political people's movements that evolved around constitutional rights.

Soren says that he wanted the Left parties to be part of the alliance as well. The plan was to offer the Hazaribagh seat — which is now with the Congress — to the Left.

"I wanted the Left parties to be on board with the alliance and to form consensus among themselves but the demand for more seats in a state where there are only 14 Lok Sabha constituencies is difficult to meet," he shared.

The Left has multiple pockets of influence in Dhanbad, Hazaribagh, Chatra and Koderma, given the coal mines and workers' movements. However, electorally, the Left is most relevant in Nirsa from where Arup Chatterjee of the Marxist Coordination Committee (MCC) is the sitting MLA.

The CPI (ML-Liberation) was not an alliance partner of the Left Front during the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The CPI's state unit secretary Bhubaneswar Mehta had won the Hazaribagh seat, defeating former BJP leader Yashwant Sinha. This is what had reportedly led JMM’s Soren to reach out to D Raja to form an alliance back in 2004. Today, Left parties of varying relevance in Jharkhand’s politics couldn’t come together in time to contest from even one seat. Which is why they have no representation in the recently announced seat share.

"People from different districts are raising the same issues and each party is promising to address them from their own platform and in their own way. A stronger, combined alternate narrative can benefit the state," said Soren.

In Jharkhand, where the unemployment rate is 3.1 percent as against the national rate of 2.7 percent (NITI Ayog data), a movement of rebellion like the pathalgadi took place last year. Munni Hansda from the Kathikund block of the Dumka district in Jharkhand led the agitation against the thermal power plant proposed to ensure there wasn’t any violation of the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act, 1949. Whereas, Albert Minj has been leading various rights movements in the Mahuadhar block of Jharkhand’s Latehar district against the proposed amendments to Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act, 1908.

During the 2018 pathalgadi protests, Adivasi villages put up giant plaques declaring their gram sabha as the only sovereign authority. These two activists had told Firstpost that the responsibility of embracing grassroots movements within parliamentary democracy cannot lie only with the Left parties and a broader alternative must be envisioned.

In the context of people’s movements, internal contest over seat-sharing can throw a cordon of doubt over the opposition’s ability and intention to rewrite the social contract.

Today, lack of unanimity, bifurcation of interests and clash of egos over seat-sharing is weakening the grand alliance.

"Those who are non-political and working for the interests of the people of the state can be disheartened by internal political calculations. It weakens the movement and becomes harder for them to view it from a political lens," Soren told Firstpost.

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Updated Date: Mar 26, 2019 08:10:52 IST