CK Janu, a prominent Adivasi leader and land rights in campaigner in Kerala, on Wednesday announced the formation of a new political party, springing a huge surprise on the dominant fronts in the state led by the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Janu said the newly-formed Janadhipathya Rashtriya Sabha will align with the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance in the Kerala assembly election slated for May 16.

Her decision to form the party has not gone down well with many leaders and workers of the Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha, the social movement that Janu has spearheaded for more than a decade.

Just a fortnight ago, the AGMS had decided to put on hold its plans to launch a political party called the Janadhipathya Ooru Vikasana Munnani (Democratic Tribal Hamlet Development Front).

In an interview to on March 21, Janu had said: “Launching a party is not an easy task. We have done some groundwork but it is not enough. So we will take a neutral stand in this election. The new party will be launched at a later stage.”

It was not immediately clear what prompted Janu to change her mind and form the party. Bharatiya Janata Party leaders had been pushing her to contest the election on a party ticket. Vellapally Natesan, the leader of the NDA’s Kerala ally Bharath Dharma Jana Sena, also held discussions with Janu on Wednesday and tried to persuade her to join his party.

“I haven’t become part of the BJP or the BDJS,” Janu said after the talks with Vellappally. “I know that the BJP doesn’t stand for Adivasi rights. My aim is to get my party entry into the NDA. A decision on my candidature will be taken later.”

Disgruntled colleagues

Janu will most likely contest from Sultan Bathery in Wayanad district, one of the two seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes in the 140-member state assembly. Mananthavady is the other reserved seat.

The tribal leader is expected to give a tough fight to the Congress-led United Democratic Front candidate and sitting legislator IC Balakrishnan, and the Left Democratic Front’s Rugmini Subramanian. Caste equations may play a crucial role here as Balakrishnan belongs to the powerful Kurichiyas, while Rugmini hails from the equally dominant Kurumas. Janu belongs to the Adiyas, one of the poorest Adivasi tribes.

Meanwhile, Janu’s move to float a party has drawn flak from Adivasi leaders and activists.

M Geethanandan, co-ordinator of AGMS, said Janu’s decision to join hands with the BJP and the NDA was suicidal. “BJP never stood for the rights of Adivasis and Dalits, and entering into an alliance led by BJP will not do any good for the marginalised sections,” he told a television channel. “The LDF and UDF should think why an important Adivasi leader like Janu had to ally with BJP.”

Decrying Janu’s decision, Dalit activist Sunny M Kapikkadu said Janu has huge responsibilities to the Adivasis of Kerala. “She is not an ordinary leader, so she should do a thorough rethink,” Kapikkadu said.

Born to a poor family, Janu had worked as a domestic help and an agricultural labourer to make ends meet. She had earlier associated with the Kerala State Karshaka Thozhilali Union (Kerala State Farm Labourers Union), affiliated to the CPI (M), but parted ways over differences of opinion. She rose to prominence with agitations – under the aegis of AGMS – demanding land for landless Adivasis. The organisation was in the forefront of the Kudil Kettal Samaram, Muthanga agitation and Aralam land agitation, and was often at loggerheads with the CPM, which she described as the most anti-Adivasi political party in Kerala.