The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM)-led coalition government, which also includes the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), has been going soft and even encouraging 'anti-nationals' in the state. And the consequences have been frightening.
Maoists, have got a free hand and their subversive activities have often been overlooked, thus leading to an uptick in their movements. The latest example of this has been the resurgence of the ‘Kolhan movement’ in the state.
This ‘movement’ is built on a specious ground that a special administrative arrangement made by the British East India Company way back in 1837 to allow a modicum of self-rule for Kol tribals residing in ‘Kol-han’ comprising present-day West Singhbhum, East Singhbhum, and Saraikela-Kharsawan districts of Jharkhand, has never been repealed by the Indian state since 1947.
The proponents of this misguided ‘movement’, which security experts say have been infiltrated by ultra-leftists and elements of the infamous gang, have been engaged in blatantly seditious activities with the Jharkhand government turning a blind eye to them till recently.
Leaders and activists of the ‘Kolhan movement’, many of them with links to Maoists, had been recruiting young men and women into what they termed the ‘Kolhan Estate police force’, and had collected a few crore rupees from thousands of tribal applicants of the region.
It was only late last month, after many reports of this recruitment drive surfaced in the media and pressure started building up on the Hemant Soren government in the state from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs as well as central security and intelligence agencies, that the JMM-Congress-RJD coalition government decided to act.
The recruitment drive was being carried out openly in Ladubasa village near Chaibasa town in West Singhbhum district and hundreds of tribal youngsters were purchasing application forms (each form cost Rs 50) and taking physical endurance tests. ‘Officials’ of the ‘Kolhan Estate Government’ had handed out ‘appointment letters’ to thousands of applicants in lieu of Rs 500 each (read ).
The recruitment drive, which started sometime in October, was aimed at raising a 30,000-strong police force. Along with recruiting youngsters into the ‘Kolhan Estate Government’ police, the agents of this ‘government’ were also recruiting school teachers and quasi-judicial officers.
Jharkhand BJP president Deepak Prakash says, and rightly so, that the state authorities could not have been in the dark about this massive recruitment drive. “The Hemant Soren government simply turned a blind eye to it since it has always been sympathetic to seditious and anti-national forces,” he said.
After months of turning a blind eye to these seditious activities, Chief Minister Hemant Soren, who holds the home portfolio, asked the police to stop the recruitment drive in late-January. But the ‘officials' and ‘agents’ of the ‘Kolhan Estate government’ retaliated and attacked the police (read ) with bows and arrows, injuring a few cops. Some policemen sustained severe injuries.
The Chaibasa police station was also attacked. The police resorted to lathi charge and fired tear gas shells. Seventeen persons, including the leaders of the ‘Kolhan movement’ were arrested. Some of them have been charged with sedition.
But the police action, say security and intelligence officials, is too little too late. By not cracking down on the ‘movement’ and stopping the recruitment drive right at the very beginning, the state government has allowed the seeds of sedition to be sowed among thousands of tribals in the region.
“Thousands of innocent and impressionable tribals have been led to believing that the ‘Kolhan movement’ is justified and will bring about self-rule for the impoverished people of the region. Thousands of youngsters who have been given ‘appointment letters’ by the ‘Kolhan Estate Government’ have been left very angry and agitated after the police belatedly stopped the recruitment drive. They strongly believe they have been wronged and their jobs have been snatched away from them. There is the real danger of these bitter youths becoming ready recruits for the Maoists who are active in Jharkhand,” a senior officer of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) who was one of those who alerted the Union Ministry of Home Affairs about the activities of these seditious elements told Swarajya.
The IB officer also pointed out that one of the key leaders of the seditious ‘Kolhan movement’ — Ajay Padeya — has been operating freely under the nose of the police and state administration. “Padeya is a deserter from the CRPF’s Cobra Battalion posted at Latehar (Jharkhand). As such, he should be on the ‘wanted list’ and been arrested a long time ago, but even though the state police were fully aware of his whereabouts and activities, he was not arrested,” the IB officer said.
Another leader of the ‘Kolhan movement’, Anand Chatar, was recently released on bail despite grave charges of sedition and ‘waging war against the state’ pending against him. Chatar is believed to be closely linked to Maoists. Both Chatar and Pandeya have been arrested after the attack on police who forcibly stopped the recruitment drive.
BJP state chief Deepak Prakash told Swarajya that immediately after coming to power in December 2019, the Hemant Soren government decided to withdraw grave charges like that of sedition and waging war against the state that were slapped on many anti-nationals, including Maoists, their overground sympathisers, and leaders of the ‘Kolhan movement’, by the previous BJP government.
“This encouraged all these anti-nationals and sent a clear message to public prosecutors to act very leniently. Many anti-nationals have thus got bail, like Anand Chatar, and have resumed their subversive activities,” said Prakash.
What Is The ‘Kolhan Movement’?
After Robert Clive defeated the joint forces of the nawabs of Bengal and Oudh in the Battle of Buxar in 1765, the British entered into an agreement with local kings and landlords empowering them to collect rent and taxes on behalf of the East India Company.
The ruler of the tiny Porahat principality, now a small town in Chaibasa, made an offer to the British: that he would collect a higher rent from ‘Kolhan’, a vast swathe of land inhabited mainly by the Kol tribe encompassing the present-day West and East Singhbhum and the Saraikela-Kharsawan districts of the state, if he was given control of the entire ‘Kolhan’ sub-region.
The British, in their greed, agreed. But the extortionist rents, and their forcible extraction from the tribals by the ruler of Porahat, further impoverished the poor tribals and left them angry. This anger started building up and in 1832, the Kols rose in revolt against the high rents and the usurpation of their lands by ‘outsiders’.
The British agent for the Kolhan region, Sir Thomas Wilkinson, decided to crush the rebellion. The Kols fought bravely, but their traditional weapons were no match for the ‘modern weapons’ used by the British force and they were eventually defeated in 1837.
Wilkinson decided to divest the ruler of Porahat from control of Kolhan and declared the sub-region as ‘Kolhan Government Estate’ that was directly, but loosely, administered by the British. Wilkinson also framed rules (which came to be known as ) allowing tribals some measure of autonomy in matters of traditions and custom and in running their own (criminal and civil) justice system.
Wilkinson's Rule allowed the Kols to have their customary Munda-Manaki system of justice: the Mundas were responsible for administering and adjudicating civil issues at the village level while the Manakis were tasked with overseeing the criminal justice system at the gram panchayat level.
After Independence, no law was passed to scrap ‘Wilkinson’s Rule’ or the ‘Kolhan Government Estate’ and integrate it (the Kolhan sub-region) within the (then undivided) Bihar state. This, argue proponents of an independent Kolhan state, is why their movement is justified.
The first to raise the demand for a self-ruled Kolhan state were K C Hembrom and Ramo Biruwa. Biruwa had retired as an additional district magistrate and was widely respected by the tribals.
In 1982-1983, a group of activists from Kolhan sub-region under the banner of ‘Kolhan Raksha Sangh’ went to London to demand recognition of Kolhan as an independent state and the right of the state to establish its own ties with the British Commonwealth, independent of India.
The ‘Kolhan Raksha Sangh’ leaders also sent a representation to the United Nations. These leaders were booked for sedition and the ‘Kolhan movement’ became dormant for many years after that.
The movement got a fresh lease of life in December 2017 when Biruwa, then 83 years old, gave a call to hoist a separate flag of ‘Kolhan Independent Estate’. Biruwa had been arrested in April that year for indulging in seditious activities. But he was released soon and after his release, he stepped up his activities.
Biruwa started issuing caste, income, age and other certificates to residents of ‘Kolhan’ under the seal of the ‘Kolhan Government’ and his signature as that of ‘chief administrator’. Following his call for raising the Kolhan state flag, a large number of advocates of ‘Kolhan state’ were arrested. Biruwa was also arrested later, but he died in prison.
Anand Chatar was also jailed with Biruwa in 2019 and when the Hemant Soren government came to power, the serious charges against Chatar and other activists of ‘Kolhan State’ were watered down.
BJP state chief Prakash contends that Hemant Soren’s profuse tributes to accused hailing him as an has also sent out a message and encouraged such activities further. “These seditious elements feel safe now in Jharkhand in the knowledge that they will not be prosecuted. That is what gives a fillip to anti-national and seditious movements like one for ‘Kolhan State’,” said Prakash.
A few senior police officers who spoke to Swarajya on condition of anonymity said that the state home department was alerted many times about the activities of the ‘Kolhan State’ advocates, especially the recruitment drive they had launched last year.
Prakash says that though some ‘Kolhan State’ activists were arrested late last month, they are likely to walk free soon since the Hemant Soren government will not press charges against them. The public prosecutors will not argue forcefully against them and the police will frame very weak chargesheets, and these anti-nationals will be eventually acquitted. And even before they are acquitted, they will get bail since the state prosecutors will not oppose bail, as has often been the case over the last two years since Soren became Chief Minister.
BJP leaders and IB officers warn that Jharkhand runs the grave risk of turning into a hotbed of seditious activities, and that can have grave consequences for the neighbouring states as well as the rest of the country.
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