Jharkhand: NDA Has A New Headache Ahead Of Assembly Election

Abhishek Kumar

Jun 08, 2024, 12:20 PM | Updated 12:20 PM IST

Jairam Mahato
Jairam Mahato
  • Capitalising on the sentiment in Jharkhand that only those settled in the state by 1932 can be termed Jharkhandi, Jairam Mahato formed a political party that is growing in popularity and expanding its agenda.
  • Twenty-four years after its formation, Jharkhand is witnessing a remarkable shift in its political landscape.

    Traditionally dominated by tribal-versus-non-tribal dynamics, the state is now experiencing a fresh wave of identity politics, characterised by the dichotomy of Jharkhandi versus the outsider (read Bihari).

    This shift concerns various related issues, such as employment, language, and culture.

    Although such demands are not new, they have been revitalised by Jairam Mahato, popularly known as Tiger Mahato. A student of English literature, pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in the subject, Mahato claims that his solitary exploits in the mountains and cemeteries have earned him the nickname ‘Tiger’.

    However, political observers suggest that he adopted the moniker to cash in on the name of Jagarnath Mahto, a former Jharkhand education minister who passed away in 2023. He was known as Tiger.

    Jairam Mahato first gained attention when he launched a movement opposing the inclusion of Bhojpuri, Angika, and Maghi languages in district-level competitive examinations in the state. He argued that the population speaking those languages is tiny, and thus their inclusion is not warranted.

    Moreover, this proposal was seen as a way to exclude tribals from administrative posts, as they do not commonly speak these languages.

    It was only a matter of time before this issue would find a place in the Jharkhandi-versus-outsider debate. Since the state's formation in 2000, the issue of domicile has been contentious. A prevailing sentiment in Jharkhand is that only those settled in the state by 1932 can be termed Jharkhandi.

    The year 1932 marks the first modern land survey by the British, carried out for mining and industrialisation purposes. Locals believe this survey disrupted the land’s purity, bringing ecological destruction and misery to the inhabitants.

    Capitalising on this sentiment, Mahato formed the Jharkhandi Bhasha Khatian Sangharsh Samiti (JBKSS). Although the language demands were met, Mahato expanded his organisation and actively engaged with the community.

    JBKSS, comprising youth from all sections of society, became a political outfit in June 2023. The organisation conducted door-to-door surveys to understand the average Jharkhandi's problems and expanded its agenda accordingly.

    Besides the Khatiyan issue, Mahato has vociferously highlighted that the Jharkhand industry does not benefit locals. He points out that while the electricity generated in Jharkhand lights up homes in Bangladesh, Jharkhandi homes get only five to six hours of power supply.

    He has also raised concerns about women suffering infertility due to industrial pollution from careless mining.

    Mahato’s speeches draw massive crowds, numbering in the thousands, and occasionally lakhs. However, his growing popularity has sparked questions about his political affiliations and patrilineal identity.

    Many accuse him of being planted by the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) to capture the Kurmi (Mahato) vote bank, which makes up about 10-12 per cent of the state’s population.

    Traditionally, Mahatos side with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its coalition partner All Jharkhand Students Union Party (AJSUP). Credit for it mainly goes to AJSUP, as it is considered the party of Kurmis.

    Mahato’s stance on various issues seems to support this theory. For instance, he refrained from attacking Hemant Soren when the latter was arrested on corruption charges. Instead, he criticised the BJP, claiming that those aligned with it are considered above reproach.

    He also toes the typical opposition line on inequality, and accuses the BJP of relying on religious polarisation to garner votes.

    On the other hand, Mahato also criticises the JMM, albeit more subtly. While he accuses the BJP of religious polarisation, he alleges that the JMM uses Muslims solely for vote-bank purposes. He also criticises Soren for nepotism and disobeying JMM patriarch Shibu Soren.

    In the past, the Soren government even accepted Mahato’s demand and passed a bill to formulate a recruitment policy based on 1932 land records and domicile. However, the Jharkhand High Court deemed it unconstitutional.

    "The issues Jairam Mahato chooses to keep a mum on are issues that go into the religious bracket. Mahato claims to be raising his voice for Jharkhand and its people, but he seems to have somehow turned a blind eye to the rampant religious conversion by Christian missionaries over the years," Adarsh Anand, a political analyst from Jharkhand, said.

    "Notably, in November 2021, Hemant Soren praised Christian missionaries for their contributions to education, particularly for tribals and the downtrodden in the state. The lines Jairam Mahto and Hemant Soren travel along go on to merge at the same point of not upsetting Christian missionaries," he continued.

    After the 2024 election results, Mahato has ammunition to counter accusations of siding with the JMM. In Giridih, Ranchi, and Hazaribagh, Mahato and his allies Devendra Nath Mahto and Sanjay Kumar Mehta contested respectively and finished in third place. In all these seats, they ultimately became roadblocks for the JMM and its ally Congress.

    The other way of looking at the poll results is that Mahato and his candidates helped them by deflecting anti-NDA votes in their favour.

    Mahato has announced that his party will contest on a majority of assembly seats in Jharkhand. Till now, he has maintained an air of neutrality around his ideology.

    Notably, the Jharkhand assembly and Indian general elections are held in the same year. It means that once someone loses momentum, they are out of the fray for five long years.

    What will define Mahato's legacy? Desperation-driven coalition or steadfastness — time will tell.

    Abhishek is Staff Writer at Swarajya.

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