SUMAN K SHRIVASTAVA
Ranchi, Sept 21: History has repeated with a vengeance in Jharkhand.
When Jharkhand’s first Chief Minister Babulal Marandi framed the domicile policy on the basis of 1932 land records and reserved 73 percent jobs for the underprivileged, he drew a battleline between the tribals and non-tribals in the state born on November 15, 2000.
The Marandi government’s domicile policy earmarked 1932 land records as the basis to decide who was the ‘moolvasi’ or original resident.
The new domicile policy triggered widespread turmoil and even bouts of violence involving tribal and non-tribal persons killing at least six youths in Ranchi. Violent demonstrations favouring and opposing the domicile policy took place in Ranchi, Dhanbad, Bokaro, Jamshedpur and other parts of the State, paralyzing the functioning of the government for a long time.
Independent MLA Saryu Roy, then part of the BJP and close to Marandi, said that it was an innocent decision. “When there was a debate over the domicile policy, the then Chief Secretary V S Dubey dug out a 1982 notification issued by the Labour department in undivided Bihar and took it to define the locals policy in Jharkhand. The 73 percent reservation policy was just a political posturing , knowing well that it will not happen,” he pointed out.
However, some say the real agenda of the then chief minister was beyond it. Marandi had pipped veteran party leader Karia Munda to become the first CM. The rise of Marandi in the BJP was attributed to his feat in defeating JMM patriarch Shibu Soren in 1998 and his wife Rupi Soren in 1999 from the Dumka parliamentary. The BJP top brass thought that Marandi could be a real challenger to Shibu Soren and shore up the saffron party’s vote base among the tribals, particularly the Santhalis.
Marandi also perhaps thought that these laws would help him to replace Shibu Soren in the Santhal Pargana.
But that did not happen. Shibu Soren remained a force to reckon with in Jharkhand politics. The JMM, under the stewardship of his son Hemant Soren was successful in getting 30 seats in the last assembly elections mostly due to the faulty policy and personal anti-incumbency of former Chief Minister Raghubar Das.
As the newly born state was on the boil on these issues, the Jharkhand High Court declared the 1932 domicile policy as unconstitutional and in the meantime, the Jharkhand Government also came out with a new domicile policy which the court approved. The court also set aside the 73 percent reservation policy bringing peace in Jharkhand.
However, the non-tribals continued to see Marandi with suspicion. He was replaced by Arjun Munda in 2003 who managed to create a balance among various sections of society. Later, Marandi parted ways with the BJP and formed his own party. But that is another story.
Some 20 years later, while Chief Minister Hemant Soren’s fate hangs in balance over the disqualification row and corruption charges, he has pushed forward two contentious bills on defining locals on the basis of the 1932 land records and increasing the reserved quota to 77 percent.
The draft bill increases the reserved quota (in jobs, admissions to educational institutions etc) for STs from the existing 26 per cent to 28 per cent, for OBCs from 14 per cent to 27 per cent and for SCs from 10 per cent to 12 per cent. With the 10 per cent reservation for EWS, the total percentage of reservation will go up to 77 per cent.
But many courts in India have struck down attempts by other states to reserve jobs or seats in educational institutions beyond 50 per cent.
He knows fully well that both the laws will not stand the judicial scrutiny so he added a rider that these laws will be effective after they are put in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution. But trying to resurrect the 1932 cut-off date for domicile and expand its scope to provide an enhanced level of job reservations to Jharkhand’s tribal people, SCs and OBCs, Chief Minister Hemant Soren seems to have opened a Pandora’s box and possibility of social unrest.
“The tribals and Moolvasis have gone into a festive mood and are celebrating the decisions with full frenzy, but will ultimately feel cheated when the Hemant Soren government fails to execute them. So, it is a kind of playing with the emotions of the common people, who are not expected to know the constitutional intricacies,” said Saryu Roy.
It is well known that the Ninth Schedule is not sacrosanct and is open to judicial scrutiny if a law violated fundamental rights. So, just throwing the ball in the Centre’s court, Hemant can score political brawny points (Jo kahte hain, wok arte hain) but he can’t ensure these privileges for the tribals and Moolvasis.
Incidentally, there has been a muted response to these draft policies from the anti-1932 domicile lobby this time unlike it did in 2002. They apparently understand these policies will never be implemented in Jharkhand. “The 1932 domicile policy will not be implemented, so long as Jharkhand remains part of India,” Roy maintained.
“Hemant Soren should tell the people what exercise or home work he has done to enhance the job quota to 77 percent after the Jharkhand High Court set aside a similar policy in 2002,” he added.
The government is certainly allowed to make special laws to protect the marginalised classes of society under Articles 14, 15 and 16 of the constitution. However, the same needs to be backed by quantifiable data on the socio-educational status of the class or community concerned.
But then, Hemant Soren has definitely cornered the BJP on this issue. He will tell his electorates that he has fulfilled his election promises and the BJP-led Centre was sitting over it. The BJP which seeks its support base particularly among the non-tribals, those who came from Bihar and settled here, has neither directly opposed nor supported the draft policies apparently thinking that it might anger the tribals and natives.
All that it has said is that the BJP government under Babulal Marandi had already framed similar policies, which had been struck down by the Jharkhand High Court. The Congress and the RJD, which are set to be annihilated by these decisions, have supported the JMM.
The stand of the BJP and the Congress today prompted Saryu Roy to tweet, “When the national parties get confused in front of the regional political agenda, then the people affected by this agenda have to determine their special role. One has to raise their voice of their rights in a patient and legitimate way.”