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Will Jharkhand CM Soren Be Able to Take On BJP Juggernaut Again?

Now Soren must face the looming BJP juggernaut once again, and he must do so boldly if he is to win a second term.

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Hemant Soren cannot afford to sit idly despite his recent, thumping, victory in the state elections. The Opposition is gathering momentum with ex-Chief Minister Babulal Marandi, who had previously split from the BJP and formed his own party — Jharkhand Vikas Morcha — now returning to the Sangh Parivar by merging the JVM with the BJP and sitting quietly in the Vidhan Sabha, while his MLAs demand ‘Leader of the Opposition’ status for him. The BJP has made their front man clear; now Soren must face the looming BJP juggernaut once again, and he must do so boldly if he is to win a second term.

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Protection of Adivasi Land

Jharkhand continues to fuel the nation, enrich the private sector and drive the growth of PSUs, but the wealth is yet to percolate into the hands of those dying of hunger. As a clear five-year term unfurls itself in front of the young leader, he faces several seismic challenges:

  • Shortly after the Sidhu-Kanhu led ‘Santhal Revolt’, the East India Company introduced the ‘Chotanagpur Tenancy Act’ or CNT. This protected Adivasi land from falling into the hands of rich zamindars. The Das/BJP government shocked the country by announcing a new clause to the CNT Act which allowed Adivasi land to be allotted to private companies. This single policy decision was seen as the writing on the wall for the government, even though its supporters celebrated it as a way to attract investment — although no major investors stepped forward. Soren must now undo the clause yet position himself as a chief minister offering land to industry.
  • Following the CNT Act clause inclusion, a number of gram panchayats objected to their panchayat being listed as a possible source of land, allegedly allotted and agreed to by the Gram Panchayat, the majority of whom vehemently denied this. Soren has the unenviable task of untangling truth from fiction, make corrections and yet go back to them to ask for land.
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Soren Yet to Face Question of Full Implementation of 5th Schedule of the Constitution

  • The 5th Schedule of the Constitution allows for Scheduled States and Districts to vet laws and decide which, if any, of them will be applied. In the face of a perceived threat by a BJP-backed private sector, Adivasis in some areas launched the ‘Pathalgadi Movement’, chiselling their Constitutional rights onto rocks and placing them in public areas. The government responded with force — charge-sheeting the protestors with the draconian ‘sedition’ penalty. Soren removed the sedition charges from the Pathalgadi protestors, but he is yet to face the question of the full implementation of the 5th Schedule.
  • The separation of Jharkhand from Bihar was a long fight, known locally as the ‘Jharkhand Andolan’ and led by Hemant’s father, Shibu or ‘Guruji’. For the Adivasis, the andolan participants deserve no less treatment than those who fought for the freedom of India. In response to this, the Das government established a commission to identify the andolan participants, then grant them state pensions and other benefits. Not one andolan leader was identified during the five-year Das tenure.
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Is Funding For Adivasis Reaching Them?

  • Much like most states, the ‘Jharkhand Public Service Commission’ recruits staff for mid-ranking vacancies. Despite declarations about jobs, the Das government carried out what is meant to be an annual exercise just once in their 5-year term, leaving the state with a crippling number of vacancies. A similar fate has met the recruitment of Grade C&D vacancies.
  • Rajesh Mahato, the AJSU Party District President is a member of the federal government’s ‘20 Points Monitoring Program’ committee for Jamtara district. One of the questions he had raised at the committee was a Rs 1,50,37,000 from the ‘Integrated Tribal Development Agency’ fund to train Adivasis in commercial poultry farming. Despite the fund being dispersed, not one Adivasi has been given a single chick. Both the federal and state governments make substantial funding available for the development of Adivasis, but the Adivasis themselves receive very little, if any, of it. Soren must find out the why and rectify it.
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Vacancies in Education Sector; Healthcare Crisis

  • Vinay Bharat, an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Ranchi University flagged the over 1500 vacancies in public education sector, severely hampering it and thus the employability of Jharkhand’s youth. The last recruitment exercise was carried out in 2008, with some 700 Professors and Assistant Professors being appointed, but the passage of time has seen the number of higher education institutions increase, but their performance being constricted due to a shortage of faculty members.
  • Healthcare in Jharkhand presents a juxtaposition – the ‘Ayushman Bharat’ card, allowing even the poorest to access cashless private medical healthcare and the expansive and expensive revamp of the physical infrastructure of the health department, has yielded little improvement in the sector. The hospitals lie vacant due to most having brilliant facilities but almost no staff qualified to use the new equipment, leaving doctors little choice but to refer most to the private sector.
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High Number of Mob Lynchings; Water Crisis

  • Jharkhand made national headlines with a high number of mob lynchings. Dhanbad, Bokaro, Jamshedpur, Ranchi and other cities are all upwardly mobile in ‘Tier 3’ cities list and yet they still fall under the State Police with the State not having a single Commissionerate. The State also has shortfalls in all ranks of Police. With both Bollywood and now an online platform producing movies highlighting criminality in Jharkhand, Soren must make significant progress in the Home Ministry.
  • Water remains the most important challenge in the State. Numerous agencies have raised the alarm over water levels, yet successive governments have failed to meet the challenge. The mountainous and rocky terrain make water retention difficult despite higher than national average rainfall. The Das government built one lakh dhobas (ponds) for rainwater harvesting in three months, but most are not maintained. The ‘Ranchi Ring Road’ has been a boost for traffic but has also severed several water channels leading to and from the city. Jairam Ramesh, when visiting Ranchi two years ago, was prodded by a journalist seeking a controversial response by being asked what would he do if he were chief minister of the state; his answer earned rapturous applause in the hall: “Water for every farmer, all year around”. Soren’s goals here are quite clear.

(Anthony Khatchaturian is a historian and commentator. He tweets @AKhatchaturian. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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