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'Jharkhand Jhukega Nahi, Adivasis Will Fight Back': Champai Soren

Newly-appointed chief minister of Jharkhand, Champai Soren, says that the Union Government has been suppressing Adivasi voices and leadership

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Photo: PTI
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With Md Asghar Khan

In an exclusive interview with Outlook’s Abhik Bhattacharya and Md Asghar Khan, the newly-appointed chief minister of Jharkhand, Champai Soren, says that the Union government has been trying to attack the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) due to its Adivasi leadership. Quoting historical references where Adivasis had been silenced, he says that they will not buckle down under any pressure. Excerpts:

Hemant Soren said that he was arrested because nobody can accept the emergence of an Adivasi leader. What do you think?

India is a multilingual and multicultural country and Adivasis are definitely part of it. But we have separate lifestyles and customary laws. We celebrate and worship nature. We are aware of the history from the days of Tilka Manjhi who fought against the British in 1784. But our history spans across millennia.

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Our ancestors fought for their cultural, lingual, social and political rights. Still, it was never documented. Rather, history witnessed the suppression of Adivasi leaders. Whenever an Adivasi figure becomes prominent, some way or the other they try to implicate them using different laws.

In every decade, one can find Adivasi faces who have gone through it. The founder of our party, Shibu Soren, fought against the exploiters and took back lakhs of acres of land from Mahajans. They even tried to limit his growth. But Adivasi leaders have never compromised. The latest example of an uncompromising Adivasi is Hemant Soren. He is none other than the son of that leader who devoted his entire life fighting exploitation. All their efforts are to suppress the Adivasi voices.

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What about land grabbing allegations?

They have been taking away our lands citing their laws for centuries. Now, they blame us for grabbing land! For example, just look at Ranchi. Despite the prevalence of the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act (CNT), the population has grown to 25 lakh. They have built malls, buildings and so many things. Which agency will look into this? How could they do it to a Scheduled Area? Aren’t Adivasis the victims of gross injustice?

During his four-year tenure as CM, Hemant Soren took significant decisions like the passing of the Sarna Code Bill, the 1932 Domicile (Khatiyan) Bill and 27 per cent reservation for the other backward classes (OBCs). His potent leadership to unite the Adivasis made him an anathema to the Union government. They wanted to stop him by hook or by crook.

“Our ancestors fought for their cultural, lingual, social and political rights. Still, it was never documented. Rather, history witnessed the suppression of Adivasi leaders.”

While Soren was trying to unite the Adivasis, a section of the community was demanding delisting of those people who have converted to other religions. They are accusing them of leaving Adivasiyat. What is your response?

The propositions like delisting are carefully drafted by the BJP-RSS to divide the Adivasis. Even after relentless oppression, Adivasis have not abandoned their tradition and culture. They will never buckle down under pressure. If the BJP-RSS are so concerned about saving Adivasiyat, why aren’t they giving us separate Sarna code? If the census is held now, there would be only six columns—they have removed the ‘others’ category. Where will we put our names? Isn’t it a conspiracy to strip us off our identity?

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They must know that caging one leader will not affect the struggle. Generation after generation, new leaders will come up to safeguard our rights.

Everywhere we can see posters of Jharkhand Jhukega Nahi with Hemant Soren’s image...

This is a message to every Jharkhandi—the Adivasis and the Moolvasis will not surrender under any circumstances.

It took 23 years for Jharkhand to make the rules of the Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, 1996. But, till now it has not been implemented.

The Union Government is continuously trying to destabilise our government. Whenever we want to implement anything in favour of Adivasis, they would create nuisance. In the four years of the JMM government, two years went astray due to the Covid pandemic. Still, we worked as much as we could.

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But the double-engine government of the BJP didn’t even install a single ventilator in hospitals across Jharkhand. For almost one and a half years, there was no industrialisation and workers left the state in large numbers. Rather, they tried to amend our CNT act—our sole protection against the exploiters.

Is this the reason that you have curtailed the powers of the Governor—the representative of the Union government—in the Tribal Advisory Council (TAC) rules?

We have not curtailed the powers of the Governor. The rules are made to ease the work. In 2006, the BJP government enacted similar rules in Chhattisgarh, but nobody then spoke against it. Isn’t this hypocrisy?

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But the state government has been engaged in a continuous tussle with the Governor...

Everything will be sorted out in the course of time. The independent agencies and constitutional posts are significant due to their autonomy. If they start dealing with things in a biased manner and consider all turncoats as ‘clean’, someone will definitely question their authority.

The results of the latest round of assembly elections show that the Adivasis are voting in favour of the BJP. What do you think?

This is a matter of time. The Adivasis have suffered massive exploitation. They were forcefully kept away from education. But now they have gradually begun to understand what has happened to them. They have started questioning the absence of seventh column in the census. This time (the 2024 Lok Sabha elections), they will come back to us.

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How many seats do you think the alliance would get in Jharkhand?

We will get 14 out of the 14 seats. They don’t have any agenda left. They did marketing for 10 years. Even in foreign countries, they are using the same strategy. They are only abusing the Nehru and Gandhi families. This is all they do. Their masks will soon disappear and people will recognise their original faces.

(This appeared in the print as 'Jharkhand Jhukega Nahi, Adivasis Will Fight Back')

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