C K Janu, arguably the most popular tribal leader in Kerala, is warming up to the BJP’s efforts to win her over. She is set to be the NDA-backed independent candidate in Wayanad’s Sulthan Bathery constituency.
Janu belongs to Adiya community, an extremely backward tribal group that had once been engaged in bonded labour. She has been in the forefront of struggles for the cause of landless tribals for two decades.
The BJP effort to draw her into the elections comes at a time when the party is fighting on a plank that highlights the lack of development of marginalised and alienated communities. But Janu’s political move has alienated Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha and its newly formed political wing Janadhipathya Ooru Vikasana Munnani (JOVM), both of which she heads herself. To overcome the opposition within, Janu last week formed yet another organisation, Janathipathya Rashtriya Sabha.
“Discussions have been going on regarding my candidature. A final decision will be taken Sunday at a JRS convention,” Janu said. “If everything is finalised, the BJP will extend support to me. I will not join the BJP. A decision on making the JRS an NDA ally will be taken later.”
AGMS coordinator M Geethanandan said the decision to contest elections was a personal one, and the AGMS is not part of it. “When we formed the JOVM last November, we had taken a decision not to contest this election. She does not enjoy the support of the AGMS in this political move.”
Janu has tried her luck in electoral politics twice earlier, losing both times. In the Lok Sabha elections of 2004, when the tribal land issue was in the forefront of the political discourse, she contested from Idukki under the banner of an organisation called Rashtriya Maha Sabha.
In 2006, she contested as an independent from Mananthavadi in Wayanad.
Sources said Janu would face resistance from the BJP’s traditional tribal vote bank, the Kurichia and Kuruma communities, both seen as part of a creamy layer among the tribals. “Generally, these two communities will not vote for a woman from the Adiya community. Besides, this time the LDF has fielded a candidate from the Kuruma community,’’ said tribal leader Sreeraman Koyyon, who himself had turned down a proposal to be the BJP-backed candidate.
Janu began working as a domestic help at the age of seven and then toiled on farms during her teens. The total literacy drive in the 1980s transformed her into a leader. An illiterate until then, she attended classes and mastered Malayalam to become a good orator. As an agricultural worker, she joined the CPM, but quit later in protest against its failure to take up tribal issues.