On September 14, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren’s cabinet approved a bill to make land survey records from 1932 the basis for obtaining residential certificates to gain admission to educational institutions and get government jobs.
The Soren government also increased reservations for members of the Other Backward Classes from 14% to 27%.
With the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party trying to mount pressure on Soren’s three-party coalition government, this decision is being seen by political analysts as an attempt by the chief minister to boost the popularity of his Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and put his rivals in on the backfoot.
If the BJP opposes the Local Resident of Jharkhand Bill, it runs the risk of being perceived as undermining the interests of Jharkhand’s indigenous people.
The Local Resident of Jharkhand Bill approved by the cabinet says that since the Census of 1941, there has been a decline in the percentage of state residents from Scheduled Tribes and indigenous groups such as Mahtos and Muslims living in Jharkhand. At the same time, the number of outsiders has increased, it says.
The policy has used 1932 as the cut-off date because a land survey that year is believed to be comprehensive.
In 2002, when Jharkhand’s first chief minister, Babulal Marandi of the BJP, had tried to pass the domicile policy with 1932 as the cut-off year, clashes broke out between indigenous people and others, claiming the lives of six people. The policy proved to be expensive for Marandi. He lost his chair.
Unlike Marandi, Soren is likely to have a smoother time, political observers say. Since March, the movement to implement 1932 as the cut-off year to describe locals has gained momentum. A group called Jharkhandi Bhasha Khatiyan Sangharsh Samiti has organised several rallies to press the government to institute this policy.
Journalist Vinod Kumar said that establishing 1932 as the base year for the domicile policy has been a long-standing demand for Jharkhand’s indigenous people – both Adivasi as well as from other communities such as such as the Mahtos and Muslims
“BJP is now focusing on tribal votes and they will not want to go against the decision taken by the Soren government,” he said.
On September 5, Soren won a confidence motion in the assembly as political turmoil wracked the state. The BJP has been pressing for him to resign since media reports on August 25 that the Election Commission had sent a letter to the governor recommending that Soren be disqualifies an MLA. The recommendation was based on a complaint by the BJP, alleging that Soren that allotted a mining lease to himself. Soren holds the mining portfolio in Jharkhand
Despite this, most of the BJP state unit has been silent about the decision on the domicile bill. It was only on Sunday that Marandi responded, taking to Twitter to criticise the manner in which the decision was taken – but not the cut-off date.
“The government should have done a complete study of this proposal instead of showing such haste,” he said. He said that the bill would not stand judicial scrutiny. “The government passed this resolution in a hurry without reviewing any prior judicial decisions,” he wrote.
However, in an attempt to ward off such a possibility, the government has said that after passing the Local Resident of Jharkhand Bill in the state assembly, it will send it to the Center to list it in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution. This schedule contains a list of Central and state laws that can not be challenged in courts.
Observers say that the Soren government will probably be able to get the measure implemented. While Marandi had tried to institute the policy through an ordinance, Soren is on a firmer footing by pushing it as a bill in the legislature.
Over the past two decades, people from other places states who live in Jharkhand have come to acknowledge the fact that the indigenous people have special rights, said political analyst Vishnu Rajgadia.
“The policy also does not say that outsiders should not come, stay or work here,” he said. “It is about reservations in jobs that remain for locals in every state. It will surely benefit” Jharkhand’s Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes communities, as also those from the Other Backward Classes.
Sudivya Sonu, an MLA from Soren’s Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, said that both tribals and members of other long-settled groups believed that they were being sidelined by outsiders. “Now, Jharkhandis can feel proud to be the owners of their state,” he said.
Dayamani Barla, journalist and tribal rights activist, said that the decision would not just have an impact on jobs but also on the social and cultural lives of the state’s people. “It will strengthen tribal-indigenous people’s financial security,” she said. “When there is an economically strong society, the rights of locals will also be met.”
She added that the bill would help protect the state’s “jal, jangal aur zameen” – water, forest and land.
Shahnawaz Akhtar is an independent journalist and Founder of eNewsroom India. His Twitter handle is @ScribeShah.