Jharkhand: Soren’s Bill To Determine Domicile Status Will Put BJP in a Fix

The Bill will make the 1932 land survey document (khatiyan) as the base to define who is a 'Jharkhandi', targeting the BJP's vote base and also its will to approve the law in parliament.

Ranchi: A Bill passed by the Jharkhand government on Friday to use the 1932 land records to determine people’s domicile status is expected to chart the future course of politics in the state and will put the BJP in a Catch-22 situation.

The Jharkhand Definition of Local Persons and for Extending the Consequential Social, Cultural and Other Benefits to such Local Persons Bill, 2022 will now be sent to the Union government with a request to get it passed in parliament and included in the 9th Schedule of the constitution, which contains a list of Central and state laws that cannot be challenged in court. The provisions of the Bill can come into force only after the inclusion in this schedule. The Soren government has thus thrown the ball in the BJP’s court.

The Bill will make the 1932 land survey document (khatiyan) as the base to define who is a ‘Jharkhandi’. In a few places, the pre-1932 land survey record and the 1960 land survey record in other places like Singhbhum will be used as the basis to determine a person’s ‘local’ status. The 1932 document is available with both the tribal and older non-tribal settlers (popularly known as Sadans), but not with those who have migrated more recently.

Landless locals and locals who do not have the 1932 khatiyan or the pre-1932 khatiyan may be identified by the Gram Sabha. The Bill was passed after tribal groups had urged that the last land survey conducted by the British in 1932 should be used as the basis for defining ‘locals’. The earlier cut-off date was 1985.

People whose ancestors were living in the area before 1932, and whose names were included in that year’s land records will be considered local residents of Jharkhand, when the proposals in the Bill come into effect.

Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren during inauguration of various developmental projects under ‘Sarkar Aapke Dwar’ programme in Pakur district, November 9, 2022. Photo: PTI

BJP’s vote base targeted?

The chief minister’s move threatens to poach into the BJP’s non-tribal Jharkhandi vote bank and tribal vote bank. It threatens to shift these voters to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) camp by sharply drawing a political line between the original settlers of Jharkhand and the ‘newcomers’, particularly from states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Though the number of newcomers is only about 8-9% of the state’s population, they exercise a very strong clout in politics and bureaucracy. This segment has been a strong supporter of the BJP in Jharkhand, along with a large chunk of original non-tribal settlers and some tribal voters.

“I am a khatiyan-holding Jharkhandi now. This has given me a new identity and I feel proud of it,” says a non-tribal Sadan resident, who has been a traditional BJP voter. He now differentiates himself from later non-tribal migrants – who coincidentally dominate the bureaucracy. The new status may not bring government jobs to the non-tribal Jharkhandis, but this has definitely given them a new political identity, pitched directly against later arrivals.

After the passing of the Bill in the assembly on Friday, there are celebrations on the streets and in villages. Chief minister Soren called November 11 a ‘historic day’ for Jharkhand. “This was the same day when the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act (CNT Act) was passed in 1908. What we had promised to the people, we fulfilled today,” said Soren, flashing a victory sign.

JMM, following the ideology set by the Jharkhand Party of Jaipal Singh, had fought for statehood based on the cultural identity of the region, where land was an identity and political symbol and not just property. The dominance of North Bihar over public affairs since the days of united Bihar had forced the tribal and non-tribal people of this rich mineral region to fight for a separate political geography, which eventually became a reality on November 15, 2000.

The Bill has been passed at a time when the state will celebrate its foundation day on November 15, the birth anniversary of Birsa Munda. President Droupadi Murmu too is scheduled to visit Jharkhand on this day and even go to Ulihatu, the birthplace of Birsa.

The timing and possibility of social tension

Though the 1932 khatiyan card was expected to be played by Soren just before the next election in 2024, political situations seemed to have expedited the move. Soren is in the eye of a storm over issues like the possibility of his disqualification as an MLA and alleged illegal mining. The BJP has been gunning for his head. The Enforcement Directorate has sent a summon asking him to be present for questioning on November 17 over an illegal mining case.

Soren’s move is sure to create social tension between the non-tribal ‘locals’ and the non-tribal new arrivals from other states as it promises to give new identities to both. For the tribal population, their identity was cemented when the new state was formed in 2000. But Soren’s move has given a new identity to the non-tribal ‘Sadans’ in Jharkhand. The words ‘1932 khatiyani Jharkhandi’ have already become a buzzword in the state.

The BJP will find the issue difficult to outrightly reject and equally difficult to accept. Many non-tribal BJP leaders will be ‘khatiyani Jharkhandis’. “We totally support the 1932 khatiyan Bill. In fact, it could have been implemented with just an executive order, instead of a Bill,” said BJP spokesperson Pratul Nath Shahdeo.

Like Shahdeo, many local non-tribal leaders in all the political parties are happy with their newfound identity. “The issue of mati (soil) comes first and party comes second,” said a senior BJP leader.

BJP tries to claim credit

Senior BJP leader and former chief minister Babulal Marandi tried to claim credit for the move, saying during his stint had decided to make the 1932 khatiyan as the cutoff to decide who is an “original Jharkhandi”.

“The BJP has always stood for the interest of the people of Jharkhand. We support the Bill. The state government has not done anything new. We had done the same thing when I was the chief minister. But due to some objections by the judiciary, it could not come into being. Instead of bringing a Bill and trying to send it for a pilgrimage, it could have been implemented with just an executive order,” said Marandi.

As the Bill would be sent to the Union government, Marandi termed this process as “sending on a pilgrimage”.

Marandi during his tenure had made a similar decision to fix the 1932 khatiyan for deciding ‘local resident’. However, most non-tribal locals did not understand the significance and social tension erupted between the tribal and the non-tribal groups. The BJP decided to depose Marandi. Aggrieved individuals moved the Jharkhand high court and challenged the decision, following which the court ruled against it.

Babulal Marandi. Photo: Facebook/Babulal Marandi

History seemed to have repeated itself and this time JMM, the party that fought for statehood, brought this proposal. Once the proposal is sent to the Centre for discussion in the Parliament for inclusion in the 9th Schedule, the BJP will be in a fix – whether to support it or reject it. If it rejects, it runs the risk of losing the local non-tribal voters.

‘Essential move’

“An identity for the local non-tribals was a long-standing demand of the Sadans. At a time when a large number of people have already come from other places and are still coming, this decision was essential to safeguard the interest of the local non-tribals,” said Prabhakar Tirkey, founder president of the All Jharkhand Students’ Union, the body that had fought tooth and nail for separate statehood in the early 1990s.

Tirkey also happens to be the vice chairman of the Jharkhand Pradesh Tribal Congress. “It is evident that newcomers from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and other places of the country will have problems with the Bill, but it was essential. The non-tribal people of Jharkhand had remained very much deprived even after the state was formed,” he added.

A large chunk of non-tribal voters who were so far with the BJP will now have to think of a new alignment. They were not represented in government jobs and though their language ‘Sadani’ or ‘Nagpuri’ is widely spoken across Jharkhand, it was rarely heard in government offices.

The issue of who is a ‘local resident’ in Jharkhand has been a topic of hot debate since the state was formed. It has been a long-standing demand from the non-tribal Sadan population of the state. After Independence, Jawaharlal Nehru set up his ‘temple of modern India’ in the form of Heavy Engineering Corporation (HEC) in Ranchi. This brought a large number of people from North Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and other states of India, who found better representation than the ‘Sadans’.