Raghubar’s Risky Ruse

The CM’s move to amend ten­ancy laws has tribal politi­cians wor­ried

India Today - - STATES - By Amitabh Sri­vas­tava

When Raghubar Das first talked of re­vis­ing two key laws— the Ch­hota Nag­pur Ten­ancy (CNT) Act and the San­thal Par­gana Ten­ancy (SNT) Act—gov­ern­ing Adi­vasi land rights in Jhark­hand in July 2016, it seemed like a chancy thing to do for the state’s first non-tribal chief min­is­ter. Land, af­ter all, was a touchy topic in the state where 26.3 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion is tribal and over a third (21 of 81) of the seats in the as­sem­bly are re­served for Sched­uled Tribes. Both Das and the rul­ing Bharatiya Janata Party knew that tin­ker­ing with the laws could po­ten­tially spark a rag­ing row amid an Adi­vasi com­mu­nity al­ready wary of the con­stant in­flux of out­siders.

But more than the vil­lagers, it is the tribal politi­cians—in­clud­ing some within the BJP disin­gen­u­ously still play­ing iden­tity pol­i­tics to re­main rel­e­vant—who are feel­ing threat­ened. They feel a suc­cess­ful im­ple­men­ta­tion of the amended laws may make them ir­rel­e­vant. The amended CNT and SNT that Das pushed through in the Jhark­hand as­sem­bly last Novem­ber seem like a mas­ter­stroke. The new pro­vi­sions al­low tribal own­ers to form busi­ness part­ner­ships with gov­ern­ment or pri­vate play­ers for non-agri­cul­tural land use while keep­ing own­er­ship of the hold­ing in­alien­able.

If im­ple­mented with care and some cau­tion,

the amended pro­vi­sions could sig­nif­i­cantly ben­e­fit hith­erto im­pov­er­ished tribal landown­ers who can now lease out their hold­ings for com­mer­cial use. Be­fore this, with­out the fi­nan­cial where­withal to plan ven­tures, tribal own­ers also found it im­pos­si­ble to pro­cure credit from fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions which were chary about ad­vanc­ing loans against hold­ings that could not legally be mort­gaged. Though tech­ni­cal, the re­vi­sions now al­low­ing part­ner­ship with gov­ern­ment or pri­vate en­trepreneurs have changed the rules of the game.

Con­fi­dent that tribal res­i­dents will see his amend­ments in a ‘favourable’ light, Das hopes this will help him emerge as a pan-Jhark­hand states­man. “No one will be able to touch the land of trib­als as long as I am here, whether in power or out of power,” he says.

Wak­ing up to the threat posed by Das, Jhark­hand’s tribal chiefs have come to­gether to op­pose the amended land laws, call­ing it a “BJP con­spir­acy to snatch tribal land”. Jharkand Mukti Mor­cha (JMM) boss He­mant Soren says “the move will let the gov­ern­ment and un­scrupu­lous in­dus­tri­al­ists take over tribal land”. He and Jhark­hand Vikas Mor­cha chief Bab­u­lal Marandi—both for­mer CMs—have buried the hatchet to take on Das. But the sterner chal­lenge for the CM will be his own col­league and three-time chief min­is­ter Ar­jun Munda, a tribal leader who has joined the cho­rus of protest raised by the Op­po­si­tion. “Land has al­ways been a very touchy is­sue in Jhark­hand. The ma­jor­ity of the lo­cal tribal com­mu­nity mem­bers are still gullible, and the Op­po­si­tion has been us­ing this to brew dis­con­tent,” says a se­nior IAS of­fi­cer deal­ing with the is­sue.

The feisty Das has never been one to fight shy of de­fy­ing con­ven­tion. Will the new ten­ancy laws cat­a­pult him to pole po­si­tion in the state? Or will all blow up in his face?

A BOLD STEP Jhark­hand CM Raghubar Das

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