State of ferment

In Jharkhand, a gap between politics of the tribal movement and electoral politics

The recent dissolution of the Jharkhand assembly has brought to the fore the political uncertainty that hounds the state, with no leader or party managing to emerge as a viable representative of the people of Jharkhand. How does one interpret this feature, which many argue is unique to Jharkhand? Why is it that Jharkhand, particularly since its creation, has been haunted by controversy and political intrigue, and failed to evolve a leadership that could genuinely claim to represent its people? This question becomes important as many of the leaders who are now in the race for power were once at the forefront of the Jharkhand movement. Shibu Soren, the Santhali leader who, in the late-1970s and 1980s, could draw large crowds with his inflammatory anti-state speeches, is now haggling behind closed doors to form the government. It reflects the larger politics that informs not just Jharkhand but tribal areas across the country.

Unlike in Dalit politics, electoral politics has been the weak link in tribal movements, most recognisably within the Jharkhand movement. It would not be a stretch to argue that electoral politics often clashed with the politics of the movement. Electoral politics blurred ideological divides, with the local Jharkhandi leaders aligning with parties across the political spectrum. In the process, they often undermined the ideological basis of the movement. The creation of Jharkhand only strengthened this trend as it sowed the seeds of factional politics at a time when the movement was at its worst. The Jharkhand of the 1990s mostly belonged to the BJP, with their campaign for a separate Vanaanchal, while the Congress also tried to woo its constituency with the prospect of an independent Jharkhand. Present-day Jharkhand compromised on the original demand for "greater" Jharkhand, which was to include tribal districts of West Bengal, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh. The map for the new state is perceived to have been drawn by "diku" (outsider) parties.

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