The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, October 13, 2002

Jharkhand: a potential unfulfilled
Ashutosh Kumar

Jharkhand: Politics of Development and Identity
by Amit Prakash.
Orient Longman, Hyderabad. Pages 382. Rs 525.

THE publication of the book could hardly have been more timely, with the newly created state of Jharkhand receiving the attention of the civil society as the domicile issue hangs fire, igniting ethnic violence. The book enables us to understand this simmering identity politics, often articulated in the form of radicalism, by analysing the evolution and transformation of the Jharkhandi identity over the past half century.

The author seeks to establish that the very process of the formation of political identity in Jharkhand, with its unique ethno-cultural connotations, has been correlated with the process of the implementation of public policies. The failure of the developmental state in ameliorating the social and economic problems encouraged the historically marginal societal groups in Jharkhand into "self-conscious ethnic identities in order to augment their political resources and influence the policy process in their own favour’. Prakash argues that the sub-national movement in Jharkhand is an example where features of tribal cultural heritage over the years combined with the poor socio-economic condition of the region to forge a politically significant ethnic identity on a regional basis. The movement to begin with had an anti-non-tribal component and revolved around the issues of autonomy and development of the tribal communities. However, as the demographic character of the region underwent change over the years with only one fourth of the total population being of tribal origin at present, the ethnic elite had to shed the exclusionary nature of the movement by including all people that settled in the region being termed as Jharkhandis.


The popular issue of the economic neglect of the region by the state government strengthened the demand for statehood for Jharkhand, especially by the 70s, as in the "integrationist-euphoric post-partition" India the mere "premise of an ethnic identity…would have sparked off fears of separatism and invited the state’s repressive wrath." Consequently, since the 50s, both tribal-cultural and economic factors were emphasised by political and societal groups of Jharkhand as the development profile of the region suffered a perpetual decline. However, the movement failed to gain momentum despite the Jharkhandi parties getting electoral support. The author attributes it to the failure of the political leadership in forging a politically significant front due to "perpetual divisiveness" as well as to its "marginal role in the project of legitimisation of the Indian State" due to the insignificant electoral representation of the region. In due course the electorate drifted towards other political parties, "in the hope of securing better resource allocation by the state." The author has extensively referred to the manifestos of different political parties to show how cross-party support emerged for a "development deficit" argument. This strategic sharing of political resources was combined with the people’s challenge to the state’s control over the economic resources of the region in the form of blockage of mineral transportation from the region, particularly in the past two decades. After the Jharkhand Area Autonomous Council failed to alter the dismal state of affairs, a separate state of Jharkhand consisting of 18 districts of undivided Bihar and representing 25.3 per cent of its total population and 45.85 per cent of the total land area came in to existence.

The reference to the political discourse under the influence of nationalist thought in India by the author shows us as to how the subnational ethnic political elite used the unique tribal cultural premises and symbolism of the region to create a politically relevant identity in a manner reminiscent of the similar strategy of the nationalist leadership carried out at the national level. Another significant insight of the Jharkhand experience has been that it also highlights the failure of the "rationalist-integrationist bureaucratic model of administration." The primacy accorded to this model in post-colonial India resulted in the perpetration of uneven and unequal development, according legitimacy to the development-deficit definition of ethnic autonomist movements. The study is significant to the ongoing debate in Indian politics about the need to have smaller states. The readers would have benefited more if an attempt had been made to bring in comparative references to the similar movements for the creation of Chhattisgarh and Uttaranchal.