Written by Satyam S & S.N. Ali Fraz Rezvi

A historical analysis of the communist politics involved in the formation of the Jharkhand state in India

Jharkhand

‘Jharkhand can never be separated. It can only be liberated and the gap between the liberation of Jharkhand and the liberation of the country as a whole is not beyond the February revolution and October revolution in the Tzarist Russia.’ 

– A.K.Ro

The Jharkhand Movement

It is widely believed that the creation of a separate state in the Indian union on the 125th birth anniversary of Birsa Munda, the great anti-colonial guerilla leader meant that the Jharkhand Movement had finally succeeded and achieved its goal. However can we truly say that the separation from the state of Bihar truly resulted in liberation of Jharkhand and the Jharkhandis ? Was the movement merely about the politics of identity or about the creation of yet another geo-political entity that functions under the same system that exploited the people and resources of Jharkhand from centuries ?

The first leader of the movement in independent India was Jaipal Singh Munda, who is affectionately remembered in Jharkhand as Marang Gomke (The Great Leader). He was the president of Jharkhand Party. It cannot be confirmed whether it was planned or coincidental that it was on the occasion of Lenin Day in 1954 when members of his party presented the first memorandum to the State Re-organisation Committee on the question of the formation of a separate  Jharkhand state within the Indian union.

The movement seemed to have lost its way when Jaipal Singh Munda merged the Jharkhand Party with Congress in 1963. The dream of a ‘Jharkhand’ seemed distant.

A New Direction

1960s ,however, was the decade which witnessed the revolutionary armed peasant’s uprising of Naxalbari which Chairman Mao called the ‘Spring Thunder’ of India. A similar armed group influenced by the Mao Zedong Thought – The Maoist Communist Centre headed by Kanhai Chatterjee sought to make Jharkhand the base for a nation wide revolution. A Bengali Marxist trade unionist Comrade A. K. Roy who was then associated with the CPI-M, was organising with the workers in the coal field of Dhanbad. He was expelled from the party in 1971 when an article he wrote in Frontier praised the Naxalbari Movement. This was also the era when the founder of Shivaji Samaj, Comrade Binod Bihari Mahto had established himself as a popular mass leader in the same area. In Tundi, the young dynamic tribal leader Shibu Soren’s popularity had risen after he led the Dhan Katni Movement.

On the 4th of February 1973 at the Golf Ground of Dhanbad Comrade Binod Bihari Mahto -announced to a sea of red and green flags, ‘Today is a historic day! To give a new direction to the Jharkhand Movement we are laying the foundation of a new organisation. The goal of this organisation is to create a separate Jharkhand State, free from exploitation and oppression!’ He went on to become the first president of this organisation – The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (Jharkhand Liberation Front).

The next speaker was Shibu Soren, who was appointed as the General Secretary of JMM. In his emotional speech, he swore on his dead father (who was murdered by the Mahajan – loan sharks) that he would continuously struggle for a Jharkhand free from exploitation. He spoke of the massive displacement of tribals happening in the garb of development. He spoke of the oppressive economic conditions that forced Jharkhandis to migrate. He said that the resources stolen from Jharkhand were used to create brightly lit colonies for outsiders as Jharkhand was pushed further into the darkness of poverty and starvation. He vowed to fight against this regime of darkness.

The last speaker of the event, Comrade A. K. Roy said that the Jharkhand Movement is a war of liberation fueled not merely by the politics of opposition and power but by the politics of change. Jharkhand would be a new model for the communist movement in India. It is not possible to create such a model in Bengal or Kerala. The Jharkhandi society has traditionally been egalitarian. 47% of Jharkhand’s population consists of Adivasis and Dalits i.e. the socially oppressed who live in the state alongside the non tribal workers who have come from outside,who are oppressed all around the world. The Jharkhand Movement is their movement. Where else can the model for a state truly free of oppression be made?

Interestingly, this event took place in Dhanbad, a city where the indigenous people constituted a mere 10% of the total population. The formation of JMM was a joint effort of Adivasi – tribals and the non-tribal workers of the coal belt. This later popularised the slogan ‘Laal-Hare Jhandey Ki Maitri’ (the camaraderie of the red and green flags) where the red flag was an internationally accepted symbol of the communist movement while the green flag represented the indigenous masses of the Chota Nagpur Plateau.

In 1975, Marxist-Leninist labour leader Comrade Sitaram Shastry penned the book ‘Bhaarat me rashtriya prashn aur Adivaasiyon ke rashtra ki samasya’ (The national question in India and the problems of tribal nationalities). In the book, he draws from the works of Marx, Lenin and Stalin to prove how the Jharkhandi issue was in line with communist thought. He urged communist revolutionaries and organisations to hence, lend support to the movement.

In May 1978, the Jharkhand Regional Intellectual’s Conference was held at Ranchi where almost all the speakers from scholar Ram Dayal Munda to popular Jharkhandi intellectual Dr. Nirmal Minz spoke of the traditionally socialist ideals of the region and of their dreams of establishing a socialist state. There was no doubt in the minds of the intellectuals gathered there that capitalism is an exploitative system that results in the oppression of Jharkhand and the Jharkhandis.

Laal Jhanda , Hara Jhanda

Meanwhile , Shibu Soren’s popularity was increasing dramatically and he was emerging as a national hero for the tribal cause.However, his gradual distancing from the communist camp and his warming up to the bourgeois leaders of National parties did not sit well with Comrade Mahto. Times of India reports that Mahto who was against Shibu’s sudden volte face, started praising the Maoists in public meetings. He advised the people to follow the Maoists and not to compromise with the ruthless state which had killed and tortured the tribals for the just struggle they had launched.

This caused a rift between the two and eventually lead to the expulsion of Comrade BB Mahto from the post of president. He was replaced by a young emerging leader from Singhbhum , Nirmal Mahato. Ideological differences also lead Shibu Soren away from A.K. Roy.

In 1983, the JMM established itself as a proper political organsiation instead of a mere morcha (front) by releasing its first programme. It was stated in the programme that the objective would be to lay the foundations of socialism in Jharkhand through a progressive mass movement. Only green flags were seen in the event where the programme was released. The suspicious absence of the red flag created a ruckus in both the camps.

To answer the questions posed Shibu Soren authored a small booklet titled ‘Saidhantik sawaalo ke sandarbh me Jharkhand Andolan’ (The Jharkhand Movement in the context of the questions on principle). In it, he freely expresses his disagreements with both the words and actions of his comrades in the communist camp – its failure to produce indigenous mass leaders, and also critcised the traditional parliamentary left parties of defaming the movement but he followed that by lauding the efforts of Comrade A. K. Roy, his party the Marxist Coordination Committee and various factions of the CPI-ML. In the piece he seems to be offended at the question that the absence of red flags in its vicinity would mean that the green flag is siding with capitalism (kya laal jhanda saath na rahne se hara jhanda poonjiwaadi ho jaayega?) . He reiterates that his party the JMM is a revolutionary socialist party, in addition to this he says that a detailed criticism of the communists was necessary because despite all their listed flaws, bearers of the red flag had been the movement’s foremost allies.

‘Alag bhail Jharkhand, ab khai ha shakarkand’

After the formation of a separate state in the year 2000, for 19 years – its state legislative assembly did not have it’s own building and functioned from Lenin Hall of the HEC. However, this did not result in Jharkhand’s politics being revolutionary or even pro-people.

An interesting individual to analyse to understand the path Jharkhand’s revolutionary forces went down is Hemlal Murmu. He began his political career as a communist activist and spent close to two decades working with the Left. He later joined the JMM and in 2003 in an interview to The Telegraph, Hemlal Murmu admits to have been inspired by only three figures in politics – Karl Marx, Lenin and Jharkhand’s very own Shibu Soren. Hemlal Murmu who was once awarded the Birsa Munda award for the best legislator in the state assembly is now a member of the far right conservative Bhartiya Janta Party.

Jharkhand has seen 6 different people sitting at the chair of the Chief Minister including Shibu Soren and his son, the present chief minister of Jharkhand Hemant Soren. With the exception of Raghuvar Das, all the other chief ministers were from the Adivasi community – the Sorens, BJP leaders, Babulal Marandi, and Arjun Munda as well as the astonishingly corrupt independent  Madhu Koda.

Funnily enough, Shibu Soren’s “revolutionary socialist” party which had promised a politics of change had allied with the far right Bhartiya Janta Party in the year 2010.

Gaon Chodab Nahi is an anti-displacement anthem penned by the people’s poet Madhu Mansuri Hasmukh who was also a active in the movement. Everytime the adivasis of Jharkhand get together to sing this at yet another protest or conference one is reminded of the oath that Shibu Soren took when JMM was founded. One can only wonder whether he remembers his vows or not.

Jharkhand Leaders are known to be quite forgetful. In 2017 Hemant Soren, the present chief minister and Babulal Marandi, the present leader of opposition came together to protest against the creation of the Netarhat Field Firing Range – a project that would lead in mass displacement. On the 23rd of March 2021 a large crowd came together again at the same place for the same cause as they have been doing for the past three decades but none of the two big leaders were to be seen. The protesters are still unsure of their future. In addition to this, the mining corridor project mentioned in this year’s budget has left the masses anxious about the large scale displacement it could result in.

Also in 2017, both Marandi and Soren had come together to protest against the fake encounter of the doli mazdoor Motilal Baskey in Giridih who was posthumously falsely labeled as a Maoist by the CRPF. On 9th of June 2021, people from Motilal Baske’s village got together on his fourth death anniversary, yet again gathered to ask for justice to be delivered. However both the chief minister and the leader of the opposition are now blind to their plight and deaf to their cries. With the most recent example of a murdered 23 year old in Garu, Latehar- the killing of innocent adivasis by the state under the garb of countering the CPI(Maoist) has been a constant occurrence.

The migrant crisis in the recent pandemic really showed the actual number of migrants belonging to Jharkhand. It also exposed that a significantly large amount of labourers in Jharkhand lead a hand-to-mouth existence or worse. Where most parents and students cried hoarse about the loss of education due to shutting down of schools in the pandemic, there are villages in Jharkhand where schools have been closed for years and the buildings are now used as barracks for the CRPF.

Is this what the Jharkand Movement Andolankaris dreamt of?

Speaking of Jharkhand Andolankaris, Surya Singh Besra – one of the most fiercest voices of the movement was seen literally breaking down in tears with folded hands begging for proper health care and attention- begging for his life- when he was affected with Covid.

Similarly, 81 year old Jharkhand Andolankari Comrade Bahadur Oraon who in the movement had sacrificed the lives of his 7 day old twin sons, could not even find a hospital bed for himself in the state capital, Ranchi. If this is the state of the popular leaders one can only wonder what situation the common Jharkhandis have faced.

A question that comes to mind is ‘kya laal jhanda saath na rahne se JMM ka hara jhanda poonjiwaadi ho gaya?’  (Did the absence of red flags in its vicinity resulted in  JMM’s green flag siding with capitalism?)

Lalkhand aur Jharkhand

Shibu Soren in 1985 wrote that the notion that leaders and party workers/activists are different entities, should be discarded. In the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha there are no leaders. If any person calls himself a leader and tries to dominate the organisation, he should be opposed.

Nowadays, a green JMM flag with neither the party symbol nor the party name but merely the face of Guru Ji, their “leader”- Shibu Soren- is a common sight in every town and village in Jharkhand. The vast ideological debates and struggles that had shaped the Jharkhand movement have now been diluted to mean that Shibu Soren is the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha is the Jharkhand Movement.

Where on one hand the contributions of the red flag to the movement have been wiped from the public’s memory, the JMM’s party programme still claims that it is a socialist organistaion. If one alters a singular word in this poem by popular hindi poet Dhoomil, it seems to fit the state of the party well,

mere JMM ka samajvaad

malgodaam mein latakti hui

un baaltiyon’ ki tarah hai

jisper aag likha hai

aur unmein baalu aur paani bhara hai.

 

(Socialism in my JMM,

Is like the buckets hung in a goods godown

Which have fire inscribed on them but,

Contain only water and sand)

The state of Shibu Soren’s Jharkhand exists for the world to see and analyse but the Lalkhand of A. K. Roy’s dreams – a state free of exploitation, inequality and oppression is something that the Adivasis, Dalits, workers and farmers of Jharkhand shall have to fight to attain, in A. K. Roy’s own words; ‘vote se ya chot se’ (through the electoral course or through the people’s force).

Satyam S is an independent left activist and industrial worker from Jamshedpur, Jharkhand

S.N. Ali Fraz Rezvi  is a member of the AISA , the students wing of Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist)


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