Kurmi unrest spells trouble for Jharkhand’s Marandi govt
Cutting across party lines ministers and leaders belonging to the Kurmi caste of Jharkhand are up in arms to extract their pound of flesh creating trouble for the Babulal Marandi government.
They are demanding ST tag for Kurmis who are now recognised as a backward caste or at least 50 per cent reservation in Panchayat bodies and government jobs. To press their demands a huge 'Kurmi rally' was organised on May 25, which happened to be the first caste rally in Jharkhand.
At the rally Kurmi ministers adopted a militant posture and threatened to resign and pull down the Marandi government. The presence of two BJP ministers apart from four of the allies, has made matters troublesome for the Chief Minister.
The immediate cause of the caste uprising is the Panchayat Act adopted by the Marandi government, prior to local elections. Panchayat elections has not been held in Jharkhand for around 22 years. The Act has followed the recommendations of the Bhuria Commission and have recommended 'tribal self rule' and 00 per cent reservation for them. Along with this in other areas they would be given 60 per cent reservation.
The Kurmi community came out in strong protest against this claiming that they too were 'adivasis' (original inhabitants ) of Jharkhand through the Britishers had not recognised them so in the 1931 census.
They have pointed out that they follow all the tribal customs and historical records have it that they too were sons of the soil. Exhibiting their strength they are threatening to play spoilsport for the Marandi government if they are kept out of the perview of reservations.
It’s a fact that Kurmis of Jharkhand are very different from their counterparts in Bihar. Here they are termed as 'Mahtos' and they follow all tribal customs.
Sensing the anguish among their brethren following the announcement of the Panchayat Act, leaders of the caste cutiing across party lines got together and have vowed to fight till the finish. At the rally the crowd shouting slogans of ' Marandi murdabad' looked so militant that the ministers were compelled to announce that they would resign if their 'genuine demands' were not accepted. Kurmi leaders of the Samata, JD(U), BJP, independents and even the JMM(S) — which is primarily regarded as a tribal party — were present on the dias to express solidarity.
"This rally depicts the anger of the 73 per cent non-tribals. We are with our castemen and are ready to die for it. Despite being in the government we are opposing its policy. There is a conspiracy to finish the human rights of the vast majority. We are not going to tolerate this even if it means sacrificing this government", declared cabinet minister Jaleshwar Mahto, amidst cheering from the crowd.
The BJP which is leading the coalition government in the state had played the tribal card throughout the Act. It had aimed to weaken the hold of the JMM(S), the main opposition party, over the tribals, particularly in the Santhal region, from where Mr Marandi hails. The Kurmi backlash, however, has put the party in a tough spot. It cannot afford to annoy the caste since it happens to be its support base in the Chhotanagpur belt.
At the same tribal organisations too are up in arms demanding 60 per cent reservation in jobs. Recently they had gheraoed the Chief Minister's residence and had organised a 12-hour Ranchi bandh to press their demand. Now if the government revises the Panchayat Act, it would invite a tribal backlash.
These problems apart, Mr Marandi himself seems to be cornered. Groupism in the state party is taking its toll on the government and if insiders are to be believed Mr Marandi is inviting anger from his own partymen through his style of functioning. Rumours about a ‘paramour’ of the Chief Minister turning into an alternative power centre has also made the going tough for Mr Marandi.