Nitish Goes Headhunting
The Bihar CM taps into tribal resentment against old foe Das
Nitish Kumar did not name Raghubar Das. But addressing the predominantly tribal audience at his Jharkhand bachao sarkar girao abhiyan rally in Ranchi on May 18, the Bihar chief minister drew loud cheers when he questioned the sanctity of a “non-tribal becoming chief minister. It’s against the spirit of Jharkhand’s creation, as it was carved out of Bihar for its distinct tribal identity and to protect tribal interests”.
While their relationship has always been adversarial, this was the first time the usually moderate Nitish, who has rarely raised identity issues, questioned Raghubar’s non-tribal lineage. The unusual tenor of his speech made it evident that Nitish has designs on Jharkhand. The Bihar CM apparently sees an opportunity to make inroads in Jharkhand in the wake of the Raghubar government’s intemperate handling of tribal issues, like the recent controversial amendments to the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act (CNT) and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act (SPT).
After first trying the ordinance route in July 2016, the CM, in November last year, pushed the amendments to the two laws—which are meant to safeguard tribal lands—through the assembly. Governor Droupadi Murmu, though, is yet to give her assent. At the Ranchi rally, Nitish openly called on her to reject the amendments “in the larger interests of the state”.
Initially bullish that the tribal community would support the amendments—which propose to open up tribal holdings for commercial use—the Jharkhand CM too appears to have developed cold feet. This was after the BJP lost successive byelections in which opposition parties held up his CNT and SPT proposals as ‘anti-tribal’.
Nitish’s JD(U), which once had a decisive say in government formation in Jharkhand, currently has no representatives in the assembly. Now, besides his old association with veterans like Babulal Marandi, he’s found another ally in Salkhan Murmu, a former MP and noted tribal leader, who helped organise the May 18 rally. There’s no love lost between Raghubar and Nitish since the former snubbed him over his pet obsession: prohibition.
NITISH OPENLY ASKED THE GOVERNOR TO REJECT THE AMENDMENTS
GET IT ON Nitish Kumar at the Ranchi rally