Tribal Love :Rhetoric and Reality

By Gladson Dungdung

Indian Currents 9 May, 2004

Wooing voters by various means for electoral gains is not uncommon. This general election has witnessed some extraordinary features in campaigning. The leader of the NDA government, BJP, is the winner in the advertisement game. The party is in no mood to leave any loopholes for the opposition to manipulate. Its campaign began with India Shining-Bharat Uday and went on to Advani’s rath yatra, sari distribution and ended up focusing on its icon A B Vajpayee, the ‘driver of the development’. The party is putting all efforts to convince voters about its paradigm shift from caste politics and hardcore hindutava to development and betterment of all humans. Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis are being paid extraordinary respect by the BJP. Tribals, who had voted the party to power in Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh are getting very special attention. The party expresses its love by organizing special conferences, distributing cows and promising to ensure their rights over lands and forests.

Just after the dissolution of Parliament, the minister for environment and forest Joel Oram publicly announced that tribals who have been living in forests before 1993, would have their rights over the forestlands they possess। On April Fool’s Day, in a election rally, BJP’s icon Vajpayee, in his predominantly poetic style, said, “vanvasiyo ko bhumi aur van per unka adhikar milna chahiye” (tribal should get their rights over lands and forests). BJP’s other star campaigners are also busy trying to woo tribals in every pocket of the country. One would be surprised to see the BJP’s extraordinary love for tribals. It can be aptly called BJP’s hollow jungle love as the party’s bigwigs are known for their doublespeak, for their failure of converting speeches into deeds, and for preaching something and doing something else. One must distinguish between rhetoric and reality to see the true picture. Let us take a look at the record of the BJP.

There are some bitter facts, which reveal the hollow tribal love of the BJP। The first is that the BJP seems to be in favour of giving tribals rights over land and forests. This claim gets exposed when we learn that the BJP-led NDA government issued eviction notices to tribals in September, 2002, resulting destruction of at least 25,000 tribal habitations, in the forests. In this process, the tribals lost their livelihood and became homeless and vulnerable. The notice showed that Prime Minister Vajpayee and his party had more concerns about trees and lives of tigers, monkeys and butterflies but not about tribals.

Second, Vajpayee constantly uses the word ‘Vanvasi’ instead of ‘Adivasi’ in his public speeches. Why? It is precisely because the word ‘Adivasi’ literally means aboriginal, initial settlers or indigenous that has so much to do with tribal identity, which Sangh activists are unable to digest. They claim of being as indigenous as tribals and justify calling tribals as Vanvasi as they live in forests. ‘Vanvasi’ is the party’s term, consciously used to bury tribals’ indigenous identity.

The third point is the BJP was completely against of the formation of Jharkhand known as a tribal state. They alleged the Jharkhand movement was a separatist movement led by Christian missionaries. Finally, when the movement gathered momentum, the party initiated a separate movement in the name of ‘Vananchal’. This time they opposed the name of the state ‘Jharkhand’ and wanted to call it ‘Vananchal’. In 1999, they sought support of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha for the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar by promising the Jharkhand CM’s crown to Mr Sibu Soren (leader of Jharkhand movement and JMM). When the time came, they betrayed him and RSS pracharak Babulal Marandi was made the CM instead.

The fourth aspect is that the party leaders depict ‘Adivasis’ as ‘Hindus’ so that they can put tribals into the so-called Varna System। At the same time, tribals’ century-old ‘Sarna’ religion is also put aside. Finally, one should discuss about the development initiatives. The BJP speak of development and making country a super power but where do tribals have any place in the party’s development theory? Does the party really have concerns about development of tribals? Tribal villages still do not have basic amenities like roads, electricity, drinking water, education and health facilities. Indeed tribals are still untouched by development, while the BJP-led NDA government spends crores of tax-payers money on propaganda. For instance, Rs 400 crore was spent in ‘Indian shining’ merely to woo voters, which money could be spent in development of these tribal villages.

BJP’s hollow tribal love is not merely confined to the vote bank politics or the construction of Ram temple, or formation of the Hindu rashtra. But it is a very conscious effort of the party to bury the tribal’s indigenous identity and creating hatred among tribals by dividing them as Hindus and Christians. In this process, tribals would lose their identity, autonomy, culture and dignity, and will be treated as lesser humans and untouchables. Tribals must recognize the bridegroom before wedding.

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