Left Awakens To Tribal Power

Recent politics of conversions and other trends makes the CPM turn its gaze towards the tribals.

Left Awakens To Tribal Power

One of the decisions at the CPI(M)'s 17th party congress in Hyderabad thatwent largely unreported but could have some significance in the times to come isto set up its organisation among thetribes in India.

This apparently follows an initiative from the party's high-powered central committee,which had prepared a document outlining the need for reaching out to the tribals.

Party sources in Kolkata claim that they alarmed with recentpolitical trends among the tribals. In some parts of the country, the tribes are under the direct influence of Christianmissionaries and of late, the sangh parivar too has set up its parallel organisations. 

While one group seeks to westernisethem, leading to separatist tendencies, the parivar is happy to have them under theHindutva flag, ignoring tribal customs and religious sentiments.

Or there are other political groups active among the tribals who believe mostly inarmed insurgency, such as the Peoples War Group, the MCC and other, in Andhra,Orissa and Bihar. The tribes in Tripura and Assam fall under the influence ofthe church and are openly secessionist.

The CPI(M) claim is that extremist and separatist tendencies flourish amonglarge sections of the tribals in India mainly because they have been kept out ofthe mainstream by exploiting landowners, rural moneylenders and others who havefleeced them mercilessly over generations. The CPM thinking goes that many have lost faith in socialjustice in the present political order and therefore opt forextra-parliamentary tactics.

There are estimated to be over 80 milliontribals all over India, but the Left record regarding tribal aspirations has been a mixed one. The CPI(M)in Tripura set up the powerful Tribal Autonomous Council, with administrativepowers unmatched in India among similar tribal bodies, but it has not helpedin dampening tribal militancy. 

In Bengal, despite the Left Front encouraging the use ofthe Santhal "Alchiki" language, its success has not been noteworthy.

For a party that professes to champion the cause of thepoorest of the poor, which the tribals in India are, the recent CPM decision implicitly acknowledges its own failure over the years to access thetribals, despite enjoying power for a long period in Bengal and for lesserperiods in Tripura.

According to a party spokesman, leave alone the tribals, the party has no majorbase even among khet mazdoors (daily rural wage labourers), found at the bottom ofthe rural economic pyramid. Land reforms in Bengal gave security to asection of poor cultivators, but not to all and not necessarily to the poorest.And, the number of landless peasants in Bengal has been increasing.

In fact, the CPI(M)'s neglect of tribal interests in the past has led to the growth ofthe Jharkhand Party among tribes in Midnapore -- mostly people who supported the Left parties earlier.

Perhaps it could be cynically argued that tribes were left broadly untouched by the Leftpolitical appeal because many among them were not educationally equipped tograsp the essentials of the Marxist interpretations of society, the forcesthat dominate society and economics and so on.

The party claims to have come up with some major ideas in a proposed 13-point programmeto help the tribals. Among major steps envisaged are protection of tribal-ownedland and holdings, prevention of land alienation, ensuring the rights of tribalsto live and work in forests, ensuring equal rights and economic security amongtheir women.