Money Talks?

Lessons of Jharkhand Election 2019

Kumar Rana

It is certainly not a big discovery that the year 2019-like any previous or forthcoming orbital periods of the earth while offering good news for many has sent unwelcome posts addressed to some others. The man, a Bharitya Janata Party (BJP) activist in Dumka, with whom this writer had a conversation a few days before the counting of votes for the Jharkhand Assembly admittedly belonged to the second group. During the conversation, he was confidence personified. 'The purse is the captain of the game, everything else is insignificant", he remarked on the question whether the failure of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to make an alliance with the All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU), with which it partnered in the previous government, would influence the results negatively for the BJP. The base level workers also began to believe that the party leaders' pockets would not lie, and even if they lose at the hustings, they would manage to "buy" the required support. It is a common knowledge that horse-trading (or donkey-trading as late Charan Singh once jokingly called!) has become a part of Indian politics—clean political image is more a more becoming a rarity. Yet the BJP has acquired a super-star reputation in efficiently combining purchasing power with the tactics of purchase the elected members, others lag far behind in this respect. The record of the BJP in outmaneuvring others has trickled down to the grass roots level that led to the man's proud conviction of the ability to buy off lawmakers. The belief originated from objective reality has had a huge subjective influence on the BJP supporters and perhaps others. Hence, although the. recent Maharaslra assembly polls have struck a discordant note, the BJP executives could not think of attaching any importance to it.

Good for the country that they could not. The more the pride of the boastful becomes stronger, the more popular sense is stimulated, be that during the Emergency of 1975-77 or the currently ongoing series of attacks on the very idea of India. It is a matter of hope for those who want a saner society that the assembly polls of Jharkhand have once again proved the dynamic nature of this popular Sense. The people have voted in a manner that preempted the BJP's chance of bringing out their purse. Those who were elated with the possibility of selling themselves at high prices in the electoral market have been denied this opportunity by the voters who gave their verdict in favour of a less complex non-BJP government.

The circumstances of the polls make it difficult to avoid the elation. Calling the rival JMM-Congress alliance a wobby coalition, is an understatement. The organisation of the entire Congress Party received a setback just on the eve of the polls. Over the last five years, the JMM leadership too did not launch any such movement that could prove its pro-people credentials. Behind the different arguments put forward for the formation of a separate Jharkhand state, a major one was to safeguard the rights of the original inhabitants. The legacy of the colonial period, i.e. influx from outside to form settlements and ouster of original sons and daughters of the soil, continues in the post-independence period. During 1891-1950, the influx of outsiders has increased fourteen times. On the other hand, there has been forced exodus of adivasis on a large scale. Hundreds and thousands have been compelled to desert their homes and land, and to settle as wage-workers in the tea gardens of North Bengal and Assam. Owing to the partition of the country, some of the Adivasi migrants' settlements fell in the then East Pakistan—present Bangladesh. What could be more tragic than the fact that these Adivasis from Rajsahi of Bangladesh require taking "illegal" means to come to the land, the making of which was contributed immensely by their fore-parents.

Continued forced migration has resulted in sharp decrease, in the adivasi heartland, called Jharkhand. In 1950, adivasis constituted 36% of the total population of Jharkhand, now their share has come down to a mere 26%. The first non-adivasi chief minister was enthroned in 2014 after the BJP's coming to power, in that year's election–owing partly to a fragile opposition dismantled in several pieces. (The present observer had an opportunity to analyse the 2014 assembly election results of Jharkhand. It gave a clear suggestion: Had there been a pre-poll alliance between the opposition, mainly the Congress and JMM, the BJP would have been a dozen seats shorter from the majority). That the induction of a non-Adivasi chief minister and the beginning of attempts to curb the limited rights granted to adivasis, for example, under the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act and the Santal Parganas Tenancy Act, was not perhaps a mere coincidence. Rather it had its link with the BJP's irresistible intent to invite the resource sharks, like Adani, Ambani, and the like. Direct intervention by the government lured the corporates to take away whatever land was as yet in their hands. Alongside, various types of oppression came to be inflicted on the people. Social schemes like food security, NRGEA etc were. linked with Aadhar cards and the lives of the people were made unberable. There took place starvation deaths. Yet, although a social scientist like Jean Dreze was arrested for initiating a movement against these, the opposition parties, particularly the JMM remained by and large passive. Even in December, 2018 vocal dissatisfactions were heard about the inaction of Gurji (Sibu Soren) and his son.

People's interest was sacrificed to the interest of the corporate and their allies. This resulted in making the already weak social sector feebler. The educational scenario is dreadful. Recording to the estimate of 2011, the percentage of literates above 6 years of age is only 66. State of healthcare is as sorry as non-existent. The life expectancy at birth is two years shorter than the national average. What is more worrying is that while the, bio-social law is a greater longevity for women than men, this difference is minimal in this state (less than one year as opposed to two years for India as a whole). The reason is that women are often deprived of health care opportunities, which is, because of the health care system being scarcely available at the primary level, and this is so for the government has not paid attention to it at all.

Alongside, there exists extreme inequality. Starvation deaths are taking place, coexisting with enormous wealth in some hands. Some parts of it are trickling down to the villages and enjoying sadistic pleasure by pointing to the poor the state of their poverty. This inequality is reflected also in politics. There is hardly any ground for assuming that major opposition parties are very much averse to the use of money. Like the BJP, three-fourths of the victorious legislators of the JMM are crorepatis (surprisingly, the corresponding proportion is very much less in case of the Congress - only one third). The declared value of the assets of the JMM leader who is going to be the chief minister is more than eight crore and that of his MLA sister-in-law exceeds two crore. Politicians being millionaires do not raise any shock in many parts of the country—that's the rule of the day. But, in a state where an adivasi child, cry for a little rice, munches maize plants like sugarcane for quenching;; hunger, men and women work for others the whole day only to secure a meal, 37% of the population lie below the poverty line. 35% earn their livelihood by working as agricultural labourers—often migrants, and many cannot imagine what one crore means, the assets of the local politicians gives a grotesque and obscene shape to the inequality of wealth between the politicians and plebes.

Yet the fact that the popular verdict has been in favour of a government of the JMM-Congress alliance cannot be attributed only to the particularities of the situation in Jharkhand. Raghubar Das, the departing chief minister, has taken upon himself the responsibility of the defeat. It may be his duty to shield his leaders, but the duty dictated by common sense is determined in another way. And common sense asks people to look at the greater realisation of the poor, deprived and humiliated commoners of this part with thirty million populations of the land. Many of them do not know how much money is owned by which leader. They have no illusion that the new government will lead them into a Utopia. They do not imagine that politics will be as transparent as crystal, untainted by corruption. Conversely, most of them are almost ignorant of the NRC. CAA. Article 370, Babri Masjid or Triple talaq.

But their experience has taught something terrible, like never before, is happening in the country. A shared feeling among them made them believe that the very existence of the country is in a state of catastrophe. The present rulers have led it to a situation in which speaking the truth is an offence and opposing the government is a serious transgression, illiteracy has not prevented them from reading the message of this calamity. Threat itself is a distinct language that everybody can read it—it does not require formal literacy. Had the case been otherwise, this country would not have survived. At the time of independence, a British journalist said that the phenomenon called Indian democracy would last at most ten years. The prognostication did not come true, nor was it destined to do so. Pluralism is the basis for the building up of India, and this diversity is the force of its defence. The separate mobilisations of different parties, student communities and civil societies along the path of opposing the NRC/CAA represents the battle for defeating the endeavour to destroy the pluralistic structure of the Indian society. The Jharkhand polls also constitute an addition to this tributary. This is in fact a message of the common people to the opposition parties, "We are the vanguards, follow us". That the catastrophe will not last long, and the masses, temporarily reduced to pick up from the given, is a lesson for the JMM-Congress combine, and other non-BJP forces: "If we can defeat the mighty BJP, it will not take us long to throw you out of office". The Jharkhand poll thus reflects, more a truly secular-democrat remedial for the professedly secular-democratic forces than a mandate in their favour.

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Vol. 52, No. 39, Mar 29 - April 4, 2020