Looking to divide SC and ST communities, BJP and RSS stir Rajasthan’s caste cauldron
Overriding Rajasthan High Court order, the Vasundhara Raje government has provided reservation in government jobs for candidates from general and other backward classes (OBC) in the Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP) area through a circular published on 4 July 2016.
In May, the Rajasthan High Court had declared null and void, a notification issued by the state government on 16 June 2013, that reserved 45 per cent of jobs for the Scheduled Tribe (ST) and 5 per cent for Scheduled Castes (SC) of the TSP area and kept the remaining 50 per cent of vacancies in the area reserved for the local people.
Governor Kalyan Singh approved the decision to give priority to non-SC/ST candidates from the TSP area in appointments to government jobs in the region when compared to other candidates from rest of the state.
The government decision came after sustained protests by the Samanata Manch, an organisation of people belonging to ‘unreserved’ communities in the Scheduled Area of Rajasthan. The TSP area in southern Rajasthan had been witnessing a series of protests and rallies by different communities – Tribes and non-Tribes – for and against reservation.
|What is Scheduled Area?|
The term `Scheduled Area’ has been defined in the Fifth Schedule of the Indian Constitution–Article 244(1)–as “such areas as the President may by order declare to be Scheduled Areas”.
The criteria followed for declaring an area as Scheduled Area are predominance of tribal population; compactness and reasonable size of the area; under-developed nature of the area; and marked disparity in economic standard of the people.
Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP) for the socio-economic development of Scheduled Tribes was introduced during Fifth Five Year Plan (1974-79).
The objective of TSP is to bridge the gap between ST population and others by securing human resource development, enhanced quality of life, substantial reduction in poverty, enhanced capacity to avail opportunities, protection against exploitation and oppression etc. A tribal welfare department at the state level must be the nodal department authorised to lead the process of TSP development.
Certain areas, besides Scheduled Areas, were also found having predominance of tribal population. Presently, TSP areas (Integrated Tribal Development Projects/Integrated Tribal Development Agency areas only) are coterminous with Scheduled Areas in Bihar, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa and Rajasthan.
The TSP area in Rajasthan comprises Dungarpur, Banswara, Pratapgarh, Udaipur, Sirohi and Chittorgarh districts.
On 27 May 2016, over 100,000 belonging to the ST gathered at the Banswara district headquarters to participate in ‘Adivasi Dahaad Rally’. Dahaad which means roar in Hindi was to press for 73 per cent reservation for tribals (according to their population share) in the TSP area (which is coterminous to Scheduled Area in Rajasthan) of Rajasthan.
Currently, ST candidates have a reservation quota of 45 per cent in the region. The rally was organised by the Adivasi Aarakshan Manch Mission 73 Zilla Sangharsh Samiti.
Two days later, another rally called ‘Dhikkar Rally’ which saw the participation of some 100,000 people was taken out at Sagwara in Dungarpur district by the Samanta Manch. The Manch was demanding reservation in government jobs for the ‘unreserved’ hailing from the Scheduled Area.
Yet another rally called ‘Adhikaar Rally’ was taken out by the SC community in Banswara on 17 June 2016, demanding 16 percent quota for the SCs in Scheduled Areas. The rally was held under the leadership of Anusoochit Jaathi Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti Mission 16, based in Sagwara. Many Left intellectuals in the region supported the protest.
The SC community comprises 17.8 per cent of the total population in Rajasthan. At the state level, SC candidates presently have a reservation quota of 16 percent in government jobs. But they get 5 percent quota in the TSP area as their average population in the region is close to 5 percent of the total population. The SC population is the least in Dungarpur and Banswara districts, which is at 3.5 percent and 4.5 percent respectively.
Investigations by ‘Narada News’ reveal that the BJP and the RSS are fuelling the agitations by Samanata Manch and Adivasi Aarakshan Manch Mission 73 Zilla Sangharsh Samiti.
Samanata Manch and reservation for non-SC/STs
The Samanata Manch is an organisation of upper castes (general and OBCs) in the TSP area and has been campaigning for a quota for non-ST candidates from the TSP region in government jobs.
Candidates from unreserved/non-ST communities of Scheduled Area were allotted reservation in government jobs through a notification dated 16 June, 2013, released by Margaret Alva, then Rajasthan Governor.
It was a political decision of the Congress government led by Ashok Gehlot. However, the Rajasthan High Court quashed the notification providing reservation to general castes in the Scheduled Area.
A Division Bench of Justice Manish Bhandari and Justice J.K. Ranka quashed the notification after it was challenged by Santosh Kumar Meena.
The BJP is following a strategy of run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. Sources say that two different interests are behind the political game.
The Samanata Manch is helmed by some businessmen and local politicians alleged to be involved in some land deals.
The other agitations are also allegedly driven by the ‘B’ team of BJP as a part of their divisive strategy. The aim it seems, is to break the solidarity of the backward castes in such a way that the anti-reservation lobby can implement their agenda as a long term plan.
Ultimately, the victims of this gambit will be the ST communities. Mining and real estate mafia are behind the strategy and their real aim is the abolition of special rules that prevent non-ST from buying or owning land in the Scheduled Area.
Justifying the position of Samanata Manch, BJP leader Krishna Kant Gupta, also chairman of Dungarpur Municipality, says: “The Samanta Manch is not against caste-based reservation system. The general category and OBCs in this region are getting access to only 50 percent of government jobs. The other 50 per cent is reserved for the ST/SCs. So the unreserved candidates from the TSP region should get priority over similar unreserved candidates from other regions of the state. Otherwise, we won’t be able to compete as we belong to the underdeveloped TSP region.”
A businessman-turned-politician, Krishna Kant Gupta is the founder and managing director of KK Gupta Group of Companies Private Limited.
The group has interests ranging from infrastructure to hotels and automobile retail.
Another demand of the Samanata Manch is to scrap restrictions on land purchase in TSP area. Certain clauses in the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution empower the Governor to prohibit or restrict transfer of land from the ST community.
“Whenever we want to start a business, we will have to purchase land in the name of some benami from the Tribal community. We want to purchase land in our name to run our business. It is our right,” says Kamlendra Singh Chundawat, joint co-ordinator of the Samanta Manch and businessman from Aspur and a BJP member.
This statement clearly establishes the fact that tribal/forest lands are being used by the non-Tribes for commercial purposes.
In the historic judgement on ‘Samatha vs State of Andhra Pradesh and Others’ case, the Supreme Court held that government land, forest land, and Adivasi land in Scheduled Areas cannot be leased out to non-Adivasis or private industries. The court also recognised Gram Sabhas as competent authority to safeguard and preserve community resources.
Chundawat says he and other leaders of the Samanata Manch had several meetings with chief minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia regarding the issue. A meeting with several central ministers are planned.
The long-term interests of Samanata Manch- including the land transaction rules- are to be implemented by making law in the Parliament. The meetings with top political leaders and central ministers reinforces belief that they are prepared for a long haul.
BJP leaders who support the Samanata Manch claim that selling land to people from the higher castes will fetch the tribal community more value.
“If they (ST) can sell their land to others, the value of their assets would be increased as people from other communities are capable of paying more. It will help them get more liquidity and lead a better life,” says Shankar Singh Solanki, former vice-president of BJP’s Rajasthan unit. A lawyer, Solanki had also been a member of the Rajasthan Public Service Commission.
But social activists say tribals will be evacuated from the region soon if such an amendment to the current rule is made.
A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court had observed in the judgement on Waman Rao Vs Union of India case in 1981, that India being a predominantly agricultural society, there is a “strong linkage between land and the person’s status in a social system”.
The judges also observed that if there is one place in an agriculture-dominated society like ours where citizens can hope to have equal justice, it is on the strip of land which they love, the land which assures them of dignity by providing them a near decent means of livelihood.
“The land mafia dealing with mining in southern Rajasthan has been circumventing the rule in different ways. Many Tribal families have been evicted by the land mafia. There is a powerful movement- ‘Jal, Jangal, Zameen Andolan’- which has been working for the protection of water, forest and the tribal land. So if the government tries to change this land transaction rule, it will be strongly opposed by the ST community and will be fought tooth and nail,” says Sanjay Lodha, Professor at Department of Political Science, Mohan Lal Sukhadia University, Udaipur.
“In southern Rajasthan, these tribal people have small land holdings much of which is not irrigated and infertile. If they lose that land too and do not have any other source of livelihood, what can these people do? It will create a ground for another Chhattisgarh in Rajasthan,” Lodha says.
The Dungarpur-Banswara-Ratlam rail line project which is been being built for last five years, has changed the real estate equation of the region. The rail connectivity has brought punters to the region. But restrictions on land transactions are frustrating them, forcing them to use a benami.
The Samanata Manch is also demanding a say in the TSP’s administration.
“All Assembly and Parliament seats in the TSP region are reserved for candidates from the tribal community. The Sarpanch and Pradhans are also from the tribal community because of the special provisions of the TSP area. We want a rotation in these reserved seats. Some seats should be allotted for people from the non-tribal community on a rotation basis. We also want representation in local bodies, assemblies and parliament,” says Chundawat.
He claims that many MLAs, MPs, and Sarpanchs from the region are supporting Samanata Manch despite their tribal identity. Chundawat listed the names of nine legislators, including a state minister, a MP and a Zila Pramukh who have supporting Samanata Manch.
He blames BJP leader Devendra Katara, MLA of Dungarpur for supporting Mission 73 protest of tribal people. Katara refused to comment on this matter. Katara was a member of the CPI(M)’s student wing SFI and its youth organisation DYFI. He reportedly left the CPI(M) to join the BJP.
There is a relaxation for ST candidates in physical requirements for recruitment in police, fire and rescue services etc. The Samanata Manch demands this relaxation be extended to candidates from other castes also.
“How can you provide relaxation in physical requirements to people from a particular community when we also live in the same backward region? We eat the same food they eat, we drink the same water they drink,” says Chundawat, who belongs to the Rajput community and is an affluent businessman and a big farmer.
But the existing data and surveys clearly show that his claims are hollow.
Available surveys and census data indicate that very few tribal households have access to good source of drinking water and sanitation. The Census of 2011 shows that just about 11 per cent of ST households in the country have access to tap water and only 3 per cent households have tap water from treated source.
In Rajasthan, only 6.4 per cent of Tribal households has access to tap water, whereas 33.4 per cent of non-Tribals is able to procure safe drinking water.
According to a survey carried out by the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (NNMB) in the TSP area, the proportion of ST population of different age groups consuming less than 70 per cent of protein and energy was observed to be higher compared to their rural counterparts.
Chundawat says the Samanata Manch is in solidarity with all protests against caste-based reservation across the country.
Former district president of the BJP’s youth wing Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) Rajeev Choubisa too objects to the special considerations given to the ST community in the TSP area.
“We are tribal ‘Brahmins’. We also deserve reservation and relaxation,” says Choubisa, who belongs to an elite Brahmin community.
India’s first Backward Classes Commission- Kaka Kalelkar Commission- argues that tribes “lead a separate exclusive existence and are not fully assimilated into the main body of the people. Scheduled Tribes may belong to any religion. They are listed as Scheduled Tribes, because of the kind of life led by them.”
“If they think they are also tribals, we suggest them to come and live in our huts. Let them follow our culture. Let their boys marry our girls and vice versa,” says Kantibhai, a tribal activist.
“The government gives free two wheelers to ST girl students. There are many such freebies given to the ST in the TSP area. Now the people from general and OBC categories want these freebies. The Samanata Manch is raising this issue as one of their demands.”
“Aren’t these people, who live in palatial apartments, ashamed of making such demands?” Kantibhai asks.
Kantibhai does not think Mission 73 — the tribal protest — is a genuine protest in favour of the ST. He accuses the BJP of secretly leading the protest to deceive the ST community in the area.
Samanata Manch leader Kamlendra Singh Chundawat too alleges that Mission 73 is being driven by some BJP leaders and allies.
According to him, Deputy Commissioner of Excise Department Mahaveer Kharadi and his wife Prakrati Kharadi are behind this movement.
Prakrati Kharadi was a BJP candidate in Aspur Assembly constituency of Dungarpur district in 2008 and was defeated by Raiya Meena of the Congress. She is the newly-appointed chairperson of the State Scheduled Tribe Commission (STC).
The Excise Department had conducted a raid in Chundawat’s house for allegedly stashing liquor. Chundawat says that the raid was ordered by Mahaveer Kharadi.
Mahaveer, believed to be very close to CM Vasundhara Raje Scindia, denies the allegations. “I have to do my duty as the Excise Deputy Commissioner. It was a routine raid,” he says.
“A group of young people from the ST community like Vikram Katara, Karun Nanoma, Kamal Kant Katara are leading Mission-73 protest. I don’t have any direct involvement in it. But I support their cause as they are fighting for the oppressed tribal community,” he adds.
Rajeev Choubisa also makes a shocking revelation that the BJP and the RSS are behind the protests.
“We are behind all these protests. All these people are Hindus, both ST and non-ST. We have to stand for all the Hindus,” he says.
When asked about who would be the victor in this war that is being fought by the BJP from both sides, he says: “It is not about the victory. The ultimate triumph will be of the Hindus. But we (BJP) won’t allow anyone else to enter this political sphere. We will conquer this whole game.”
Meanwhile, another protest has been going on for nearly two years in front of Dungarpur district headquarters, led by ST activist Somalal Koted, demanding reservation for STs according to the percentage of their population in the area.
Koted was previously associated with the All-India Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation, known as BAMCEF, and is now leading the protest independently under the banner of ‘Scheduled Area Sangharsh Samiti’. He was deputy director of the State Insurance and General Provident Fund department in Rajasthan.
“We are not Hindus. We, the tribal people, have our own culture and spiritual concepts. It has nothing to do with Hinduism. Hinduism is based on Manusmriti, which is a Brahmanic scripture. They (Sangh Parivar) are trying to convert tribes into Hinduism through their affiliated organisations such as the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram. They have succeeded in converting many tribes. But they are betraying our community,” Koted says.
Koted says the Mission-73 protest is being led by RSS leader Lal Singh Pargi, also an office bearer of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, which clearly exposes the strategy of the BJP and RSS.
Koted’s movement also demands population-based reservation for ST in state civil services in the TSP area.
“We are not against reservation to anyone. Our demand is that the ST should get reservation according to their population share in the TSP area. The SCs and OBCs could be given reservation according to their demographic share,” Koted adds.
Echoing Koted even though on a different note is Chundawat, when he says: “RSS leader Lal Singh Pargi is supporting the Mission-73 protest. We, people from general castes, had considered RSS as our own flesh and blood. But local RSS leaders have betrayed us by taking this stand.”
Congress leader Tara Chand Bhagora, also a former MP, demands reservation for STs on the basis of their demographic share.
“They (RSS) are following the words of their leader Mohan Bhagwat, who wants the reservation system to be done away with. They are anti-ST and want to make us their slaves,” says Bhagora, who also belongs to the ST community.
Many Left organisations and intellectuals in the region are supporting the protest led by ‘Anusoochit Jaathi Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti Mission 16’ for the SC community.
“SC candidates have only 5 per cent reservation in the TSP area. They are getting reservation only according to their population in the region. But the SC population is more than 20 per cent of the total population in about 12 districts of Rajasthan. In Ganganagar, the SC population is about 36.6 per cent of the total. But we get only 16 per cent reservation (which is the state average of SC population) in all these districts. So we can’t agree with the population-based reservation system followed in this TSP region,” says Bhanwar Meghwanshi, a 40-year-old Dalit rights activist and independent writer from Bhilwara.
Multilateral agitations for and against reservation are making big chaos in the caste politics of southern Rajasthan.
The tribal communities in the TSP region are suffering from severe backwardness and lack of representation. TSP special reservation (45 percent) is given only in subordinate ministerial services. They do not have any reservation in Rajasthan civil services with a higher salary scale. Some social activists in the region told us that ST people lack representation in higher ranks of police and administrative services.
Turning a blind eye to the demands of SC/ST representatives, the Rajasthan government has given reservation to the people from general castes and OBC in the TSP area. The government has re-established an order through a circular that was quashed earlier by the High Court.
Law experts opine that the state government cannot overrule a verdict of the High Court through a circular. Either the government has to make a law in the legislative through a Bill or else it should challenge the High Court order in the Supreme Court, they add.
While the Governor has special powers regarding the Scheduled Area, these powers are meant for the well-being of the Tribes and the protection of forests, the law experts say.
Meanwhile, Patel quota agitation leader Hardik Patel has moved to Udaipur in accordance with the conditional bail granted by Gujarat High Court. The 23 year old has to stay out of his home state for the next six months.
Pushkar Lal Dangi, former Congress MLA from Mavli constituency, is hosting Hardik Patel in Udaipur. The Patidar quota agitation leader has declared that he will fight for OBC reservation in the TSP region. This is going to make the whole issue more complex.