Difficult Road Ahead for Raghubar Das

Difficult Road Ahead for Raghubar Das

by Sudesh Verma - Dec 29, 2014 12:49 PM +05:30 IST
Difficult Road Ahead for Raghubar Das

Since the chief minister is not an adivasi, Maoists may use his identity to mislead the tribal population towards militancy, and his detractors will keenly await his mistakes in a state smarting from corruption, militancy, hooliganism and misrule of almost 14 years.

Raghubar Das’s ascendancy to the chief minister’s post in Jharkhand has broken the convention of having a tribal chief minister for the state, where adivasis have always raised the issue of massive exploitation in the hands of ‘outsiders’, dikkus in the local parlance. Das is not an outsider; he was born to a steel factory labourer in Jamshedpur. But his actions would be keenly watched by many who would like to see him through the prism of identity politics.

The test would entail the question as to whether Das would be able to lift Jharkhand from chaos brought in by years of mal-governance and lack of development despite being a revenue-surplus state. He has a political baggage of being in power earlier and taking some decisions that had become controversial. His biggest challenge would be to integrate the tribal population to the mainstream without adversely impacting their lifestyle, creating employment for them and the youth of other denominations and bringing in an order free of nepotism and corruption.

He has to be extra careful that his actions do not become reasons to fuel tribal militancy, which everyone in Jharkhand fears. Fourteen years of tribal leadership failed to provide a corruption-free government or a government that delivered development. But it certainly contained tribal unrest and allowed life to run normally in the state.

Raghubar Das
Raghubar Das

When Jharkhand became India’s 28th State on 15 November 2000, everyone in the state had heaved a sigh of relief. It promised to end tribal militancy that was being justified in the name of freedom from exploitation. The long-drawn fight of more than 50 years had culminated into fruition when the separate state was carved out of Bihar. The tribal-non-tribal divide was so pronounced at that time that none could even think of foisting a non-tribal chief minister on the state. Babulal Marandi of the BJP, who had defeated Shibu Soren in an electoral battle earlier, was therefore a natural choice.

The pejoratively called dikkus were mostly people from north Bihar who had made a lot of money through government contracts, tenders, mines and government jobs. They also ran organised gangs and were notorious criminals. These people had become figures of hate everywhere and symbols of exploitation. Former vice chancellor of Ranchi university and noted intellectual Ram Dayal Munda used to say that “..they (non-tribal people) enter like a needle and get out like ploughshare”.

Contrary to the impression of tribal domination in terms of population, however, only about 27 per cent people of the state are tribal. This is much lower than Chhattisgarh (which became an independent State along with Jharkhand) that has a tribal population of 30.62 per cent. The sense of wrong and feeling of exploitation was more intense in Jharkhand. This explains why everyone accepted the proposal of a tribal CM and this became a convention from 2000 to 2014.

In that sense, Chief Minister Das’s elevation is a marked shift. He comes after rejection of the logic that only an adivasi can deliver social justice in Jharkhand. Different chief ministers, including Shibu Soren, got a chance to change the face of the state. Almost all of them failed to understand the historical responsibility that the post had provided them. Their rule that left a lot to be desired has blunted the argument against a non-tribal chief minister.

This is likely to give some elbow room to Das to govern and implement the ‘good governance’ agenda promised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The context of the post has put additional responsibility on him as any failure would have a direct bearing on the image of the prime minister. However, tribal huts and hearths need to be given protection while ordering development. Jharkhand must have an indigenous model of development rather than a replication of scripts of other places.

Jharkhand Map
Jharkhand Map

The mandate indicates that people have grudgingly voted for the BJP-led alliance. Although the alliance has got the majority, it is not as impressive as one expected it to be. In absence of a good alternative, people have decided to trust Modi’s words. The onus to live those promises is now on the chief minister and his ministers. Delivering a citizen-friendly government that would use IT to bring transparency and accountability would be a welcome step in a state where nothing moves without greasing the palms of officials.

The present government will find it hard to sell big development stories since developmental activities in the rural hilly tribal tract of land are likely to create problems of livelihood. Most adivasis lead lives of settled agriculturists. They would not welcome displacement. And they would find easy support from the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, which would like to go back to its original agenda of ‘restoring tribal pride’.

The Jharkhand chief minister would do well to learn from the Gujarat experience where the district administration in association with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) organise panchayats to decide the issue of purchase of land. All three parties — the landowner, the land-buyer and the middlemen — are brought to one platform to ensure that nobody is cheated. Village panchayats are organised to understand their objections if a major decision, such as setting up of an industry in the area, is being taken.

Land alienation and exploitation are two big issues that have allowed the Maoists to seep through into the social fabric of the rural society. Fighting Maoism is going to be a tough task, more so as the police is ill-trained and ill-equipped. Mostly, the intelligence network of these mercenaries works better than that of the local police. A non-tribal chief minister runs the obvious risk of emboldening the Maoists to push the tribal folk towards militancy if an impression of neglect gets created.

The chief minister would need to create reliable machinery for dissemination of information because the prevailing system serves the purpose of exhibition more than of delivery. E-governance is the solution here.

Jharkhand lacks roads, power, other infrastructures and a good law-and-order scenario that makes city life cultural. Industries are either closing or migrating to other places. The education system is not expanding since those who can afford better education want to leave the state and go to other places such as Tamil Nadu, Karnataka or Orissa. A much better integration of education with needs of industries is needed.

The chief minister is lucky; there will be more money at his disposal after the Union Government’s new coal policy. The challenge will be to judiciously use the policy and plug loopholes. But he would have a tough time ending mafia raj at the government-owned coalfields. The nexus between goons and police has made the task extremely challenging.

When Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar, there was gloom and desperation in Bihar since the undivided state depended largely on agriculture and most industries were located in Jharkhand. It was reckoned that, while Jharkhand would compete with Maharashtra, Bihar would become increasingly dependent on the Centre for its survival. Under Nitish Kumar, who became the chief minister of Bihar in 2005 with the BJP’s support, the state marched ahead by leaps and bound. While everything is not hunky dory, Bihar has embarked on a trajectory of high-growth and better infrastructure.

Many people in Jharkhand wish they too had a leader who could govern well. Will Raghubar Das prove Modi right? This mandate should not be taken as an endorsement of the BJP, but a test case and a challenge on the promise of good governance.

Sudesh Verma is a senior journalist and president of Debating India Foundation, a Delhi based think tank. He has authored Narendra Modi: The Game Changer, a bestseller on the life and career of the Indian Prime Minister.
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