In the ongoing Assembly elections in Jharkhand, the tribal vote is critical if the BJP wants to retain power in the state. As per the 2011 Census, the tribal population is 26 per cent in Jharkhand, which is a significant vote bank. Raghubar Das, a non-tribal, has been at the helm of the affairs for the last five years, and many policies of the current regime have not gone down well with the indigenous communities.
We tried to learn how the saffron party is wooing them by following the campaign trail of one of its leaders, Ram Babu Tiwari, who is a confidant of the Chief Minister.
“With the development that our government has done in Jharkhand in the last five years, be it providing electricity to remotest villages, gas cylinder to women under Ujwala Yojna, providing house to poor under Awas Yojna, we are confident that the people here will vote for us. Be it tribals or non-tribals, all are with us,” said Tiwari on our way to Chaibasa where the sitting MLA is from Jharkhand Mukti Morcha.
A few kilometres from Chaibasa near Majhgaon village, we found a few houses with cross signs on their door. On being asked about it, the BJP leader pointed those as houses of Christians who have been “forcefully” converted.
“See Missionaries here work under a strategy. They brainwash the innocent tribals to convert into Christian. They sometimes even threaten these tribals. Paison ka lobh de kar, bimari me madad ke naam par, yaa fir ye keh kar ki tumharey bachhey humarey school me tab hi padhengey jab tum Christian dharm apna logi. To stop all this the state government brought the Anti-Conversion Bill,” said Tiwari. The Anti-Conversion Bill was opposed by the tribals as they claimed it was in violation of their fundamental rights.
During our journey, our vehicle was stopped a number of times by the security personnel deployed on election duty. Three days ago, before the first phase of elections, Naxals had gunned down four security persons in Latehar. Two days later, two leaders of the JMM were also killed in Palamu. In view of such attacks, the security men are on high alert. However, the BJP leader maintained that these two incidents have happened after a long time and the state government has almost eradicated the menace of Naxalism from Jharkhand.
“Maoism ke naam par afeem ka kheti karna, logon ko blackmail karna. Yahi kaam thaa in log kam. You must have heard about Pathalgadi. They used to plant stone order barring outsiders from entering the villages. In almost 200 villages they had done that. They called it their own right given under constitution. Our government crushed the Pathalgadi movement. All these only give rise to Naxal activities,” said the BJP leader accusing the JMM of being hand in gloves with the Maoists.
Locals, however, claim that many who were part of the Pathalgadi movement have been arrested by the police as part of their crackdown against Naxalism. A total of 19 cases of sedition have been invoked against 172 people.
On our way, we found a small hut where some villagers were preparing a drink with rice. We were told it is handia, which is rice beer. Handia calms hunger and makes people sleepy. This has an implication on nutrition, especially for children. Children do not ask for food once they have handia. It reminded us of the hunger deaths in Jharkhand that made the national headline. At least 22 hunger deaths were reported in Jharkhand in the last five years. When asked about it, Tiwari first denied and then passed the blame on rebel minister Saryu Rai.
“Ye sab media dwara prayojat newas hai. (It’s media created hunger). You can see around. There is a huge cultivation of rice in the state. How can there be starvation death? As far as the supply of ration is concerned, the food and supply minister is the right person to ask this question,” said Tiwari. Saryu Rai was the Food and Supply Minister who is contesting the elections independently after being denied ticket this time. Tiwari’s tussle with Rai had made headlines in the local newspaper.
At around 2 PM, we arrived at Chaibasa where at a ground many tribal villagers were called to ask if they have benefited from the government schemes or not. “Sarkar ka yojna ka labh sabko mila hai ki nahi. Ujwala yojna se kis kis ko gas cylinder mila. Awas Yojna ke tahat kis kis ko ghar mila hai,” Tiwari asked the villagers. Some hands rose in agreement. Many were still down. Those whose hands were down Tiwari asked his assistant to note down their name.
“I have noted down the name of those who are yet to get the benefit of the government schemes. You people don’t worry, I will speak to the chief minister on this. I will make sure he himself visit you and take stock of the situation,” he told the villagers.
During a public rally a few months ago, in a slip of tongue CM Das had said he will make Jharkhand an “adivasi-mukt” state. Though Das immediately corrected himself, it didn’t go down well with the tribals. In the last five years, Das’s image has taken a hit and he is seen by many as anti-tribal. Successful implementation of Centre schemes in tribal areas is the one strong point of his government. But will that convert into electoral success? It is hard to say.