I will try my best to influence BJP’s development agenda: Tribal leader Janu
Janu feels she can indeed make a difference by engaging with the BJP
CK Janu, a firebrand leader from the Adiya tribe of Wayanad, dropped a bombshell on April 8. She announced she is contesting the Kerala elections from Sulthan Bathery constituency (in Wayanad district) as a candidate of the newly formed Janathipathya Rashtriya Sabha with support from the NDA.
Janu shot to fame with long struggles for land under the aegis of the Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha, a congregation of landless SC, ST and Dalits, in 2001, 2003 and again in 2014. Both the Left Democratic Front and United Democratic Front governments have consistently dragged their feet in fulfilling their promises to the Adivasis and Dalits in Kerala. Janu’s shift comes in this backdrop.
However, her decision has split activists and writers in the state down the middle.
While one section argues that by going with the BJP she has ditched the long secular struggle waged by the Adivasis and other minorities against the Hindutva agenda, the other section believes the move is a political one and hopes that she will realise her mistake and return to the secular fold soon.
“Janu has done many political experiments in the past. She has negotiated with the LDF, the UDF and also tried finding a place in a third front. Her present decision is an extension of that. If she has turned to the BJP now, it is because we have failed her. Moreover, there is no point in thinking that Janu should always be part of an agitation. So we need not pillory her for the decision she has taken. Nonetheless, I am personally saddened,” says K Rekharaj, activist and writer who has been part of the various agitations led by Janu.
Meanwhile, Sunny M Kapikkad, another activist and writer, said the BJP is trying to make the most of the gap created by the Left and Right in Kerala. “BJP has been looking for ways to come clean after the Rohit Vemula issue. By going along with the party, Janu has come as a savior for it at this juncture,” he said.
Janu, however, feels she can make a difference by engaging with the BJP. In interviews, she has time and again iterated that she is not ready for any compromise on minority issues.
Edited excerpts of an interview with Janu:
Why have you decided to go with the BJP/NDA now?
When you look at the history of Kerala politics, you will see the state has never been ruled by a single party but by only coalitions - left and right. And it is clear that both these fronts have always ignored those in the lowest strata of the society, those living in utter misery - be them the Dalits or Adivasis.
Till date, there has not been any agenda to address the issues these sections face. In the last 60 years, when both these fronts ruled Kerala one after the other, they have never devised a strategy for the Adivasis, Dalits and the landless labourers to bring them into the political mainstream. This is a fact.
It was the Left that should have addressed them. But take a look at their organisational structure right from the branch level to the Politburo. You will never see a Dalit or an Adivasi in any of the posts. So clearly, people from the lowest strata have no place anywhere.
It is in this backdrop that, as a Third Front, the BJP/NDA has said that they are ready to consider the Adivasis and Dalits as a coalition partner. The LDF has not considered this section of society as even human beings. So the decision by the BJP/NDA to consider the Adivasis and Dalits as political allies is a positive move and a good one at that.
In Kerala, there are 4.5 lakh Adivasis. They can never be a party of their own. The only way out is to be part of a Front or coalition. Moreover, if the life of the landless Adivasis, Dalits and labourers has to move ahead at least by an inch, they have to get political power. That is what I have learnt from the last 24 years of my struggles.
I started my public work only to bring about a change in the lives of the Adivasis and Dalits. So I should accept whatever way that opens up before me. This is a political decision I have taken. It is not like what everybody is speaking about. And it is not about my personal image or fame.
What is the issue that you are raising in this election?
Until now I have been working for a community. But when it comes to an election, I have to consider everybody's problems. So it is about what is required for the development of Sultan Bathery constituency. I cannot discriminate between Adivasi, Dalit, Christian or Muslim. There are many things to be done here.
When it comes to the Adivasis, they are living in really miserable conditions, without even basic facilities. Eight to 10 families live in a small tent made of plastic tarpaulin. If one of them builds a house with the government’s help, the others will have to leave. It will make them homeless. So nobody does that. This needs to change. We need to bring about changes in the farm sector to address the problems of the farmers. A permanent solution to the problem of the human-wildlife conflict has to be found out.
While travelling through some areas of Wayanad, such as Mullenkolly, I found the major issue is that of scarcity of clean drinking water. Then there is climate change-related issues and decline in the agriculture sector. What is your stance on these issues? Are they an election issue at all?
They should be. Every time there are changes in a human being's life, nature also gets affected. Our life is entering a dangerous phase. Unless we take steps to protect our streams, springs and rivers, there will not be a solution to the water crisis that we face today. Consider paddy cultivation. A paddy field is not just a provider of food. When we cultivate paddy for six months, the field also transforms into a water resource for the adjoining regions. We will have to devise a strategy to encourage such cultivation.
What, according to you, are the solutions?
We should not destroy the traditional mode of cultivation, the streams, springs and rivers in the region. We should bring back farmers to paddy cultivation. But then there is a problem - the farmers who engage in paddy cultivation are not making any profits. The government should give them financial support. What is needed is an agriculture package to support them - a Wayanad package. That is the only way to address the water scarcity in the region.
What is your stand on PESA? (Panchayats (Extension of Scheduled Areas Act 1996). The Act gives power to panchayats to decide how the natural resources under them should be used.)
There is no compromise on PESA. It should be implemented at the earliest. It should be passed in favour of Adivasis. That will also help battle climate change. Once the Adivasis get the right to decide what the land should be used for, they will be able to start doing farming in their own way. That is the right way to deal with climate change. That is why I said the government should devise a Wayanad package and support such farmers. That will definitely help battle climate change.
The BJP's development agenda goes against the point you are making. The NDA has a thrust on mining. More forest land is being given for this purpose. Isn't this an irony?
What I feel is if there are more people to raise the issue with the BJP and put pressure on them, their development agenda could be changed. There is nobody to do this now.
So are you going to take this up with the party?
I will try my level best.