The opposition alliance in Jharkhand was the latest to announce its seat-sharing formula—seven seats to Congress, four to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), two to JVM(P), one to RJD. Former Jharkhand CM and JMM leader Hemant Soren tells Preetha Nair that this election will be about land acquisition and starvation deaths.
JMM is contesting only four seats. Have you ceded too much ground?
Our party is looking for a long-term association with the Congress in assembly polls with the understanding that the Congress will contest more seats in the Lok Sabha polls and JMM in the assembly polls.
Why was the Left left out?
They were demanding more seats than we could accommodate.
Your main issues....
The BJP regimes in the Centre and the state have misruled us for the past five years. The pressing issues are land acquisition and the Forest Right Act (FRA). The Supreme Court has stayed its order on eviction of tribals from forest lands, but evictions are being done surreptitiously. Around 18 lakh tribals will be displaced by this order. There’s also a move to give more power to forest officials, making tribals more vulnerable.
The Raghubar Das government’s move to amend Santhal Pargana and Chhota Nagpur Tenancy Acts invited ire from many quarters....
The amendments were intended to wrest farmland from tribals and sell it to corporates like Adani. We agitated, so they couldn’t enforce it. Hundreds of our workers are still facing charges on this. Now the government is using illegal means to acquire land. The FRA stipulates a major role for gram sabhas, but the regime has finished them off. Now they only a need a simple ‘yes’ to grab land from tribals.
If you come to power, will you return all forcefully acquired land?
That will be my priority. Land acquisition is a national issue and we will bring it before Parliament. Our party’s ideology is to save tribal interests.
How will you tackle starvation deaths and the Aadhaar linkage issues?
We had 20 starvation deaths. Every social security programme—rations, mid-day meals, pensions—is linked to Aadhaar, but how will you implement it despite poor literacy, poverty and connectivity problems? We will look for easier options to deliver essential services without complicating lives.
Will Balakot help BJP?
Who cares about air strikes when they don’t have drinking water? This government has failed to address unemployment and agrarian distress.
What about the new ‘chowkidar’ slogan?
Our PM is a chowkidar of thieves. There were reports about the pending salaries of real chowkidars, so the district collectors were asked to pay them immediately. Our treasury is empty as the government is spending obscene amounts on campaigning!