Politicians play ‘caste vs tribal’ game in Jharkhand

Manoj Prasad

Ranchi, May 21: JHARKHAND is embroiled in an interesting battle with all heavyweights playing the ethnic card, a game that is being described by many as that of caste vs tribe.

The Kurmi rally slated for May 25 at the sprawling Morahabadi maidan here is being seen as a move to pressurise the state and Central governments to accord Scheduled Tribe status to Kurmi-Mahato, a Backward caste.

The rally will be addressed, among others, by a dozen-odd leaders belonging to the Kurmi-Mahato caste, including BJP MP Ramtahal Choudhary, JD(U) MLA and state Energy Minister Lalchand Mahato, United Goa Democratic Party MLA and Road Construction Minister Sudesh Mahato, Samata party MLA and state PHED Minister L. Jaleshwar Mahato, BJP MP Abha Devi’s husband and former JMM general secretary Shailendra Mahato and JMM general secretary Sudhir Mahato.

The move came after the Jharkhand Panchayat Raj Act, 2001 reserved posts of mukhiyas and deputy mukhiyas of village panchayats in Scheduled areas for members of Scheduled Tribes as per the Provision of the Panchayat (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996. Since within the Scheduled areas (technically, tribal inhabited areas incorporated under Schedule V of the Constitution) of this state, many villages have non-tribals as the dominant community, they will not accept a tribal mukhiya. Hence, this demand. ‘‘We demand amendment in the Act and also ST status for our members,’’ said the BJP’s Chatruram Mahato, in-charge of the committee organising the rally.

Neutral observers consider the rally as ‘‘a new chapter’’ in the history of Jharkhand for two reasons. One, it is the first time that the state is witnessing political polarisation on caste lines. Two, these Mahato leaders have unanimously resolved to opt out of the panchayat polls if their demands are not redressed.

The Mahatos enjoy substantial numerical strength in far-flung areas of south and north Chhotanagpur divisions. So in an apparent move to placate them, the state government has reportedly decided to pass the buck to the Centre. ‘‘We can’t amend the Central Act. We can only recommend their case to the Centre which will then decide whether or not to accept it,’’ Chief Minister Babulal Marandi said.

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Referred by: Mukundan CM
Published on: May 23, 2001
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