Tala Marandi’s sacking as Jharkhand BJP chief just 13 weeks after his appointment has a lot to do with his criticism of his own government over proposed changes in the laws safeguarding tribal land rights, observers say.
The Santhal leader, who represents the Borio assembly constituency, was replaced by Lakshman Gilua, another tribal leader who represents the Chaibasa constituency in the Lok Sabha. The sacking came after a string of controversies involving Marandi, including charges of sexual exploitation against his son.
A statement issued by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) merely said Marandi’s resignation, submitted on August 11, has been accepted and Gilua has replaced him.
Marandi comes from the Santhal Pargana. He was the first Santhal tribal to be appointed state BJP chief, a move by the party to counter the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), the main opposition party, and also the one that is perceived to be most representative of Jharkhand’s tribal population. Santhal Pargana is considered a JMM bastion.
Marandi was to play a role in bridging the gap between the government and the tribal people, especially when the state is being administered by a first-time non-tribal Chief Minister, Raghubar Das.
Tribals account for 27 per cent of the state’s population and the BJP gets a large share of their votes.
Party sources say Raghubar Das was unhappy with Marandi’s functioning and had conveyed this to the BJP’s central leaders. The central leadership went with Das and opted to replace the controversial tribal leader with another who belongs to the Kolhan region.
Marandi first landed in trouble for allegedly getting his son, Munna Marandi, married to a minor girl. This bride was reportedly selected in haste after another girl lodged a police complaint alleging that Munna had sexually exploited her. The original bride-to-be backed out after the sexual exploitation charge stained the Marandi household.
The controversy had not fully died down when Marandi joined the opposition in criticising Raghubar Das’s government over proposed changes in the Chotanagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act and Santhal Pargana Tenancy (SPT) Act through an ordinance sent to the President for approval.
The two laws restrict transfer of land belonging to the Scheduled Tribes. The proposed changes in them have been dubbed by the opposition as a great betrayal of the tribal people by the BJP. The criticism has come not only from the opposition parties but also by the BJP’s coalition partner, the All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU).
The BJP itself is divided over the changes in the two laws, as reflected in the criticism voiced by Marandi, who said: “Any change in the two land acts will put a question mark over the existence of the tribal people of the state.”
The ordinance, if notified, will allow the government to acquire farmland for non-agriculture purposes such as construction of roads, power plants and even marriage halls.
Marandi’s statement has allowed the opposition to attack the government with renewed vigour, with JMM Executive President Hemant Soren claiming that more than a dozen legislators of the BJP were in contact with him over changes in the two acts.
An embarrassed BJP got an opportunity to remove Marandi when he announced his 50-member team. More than six people, including Meera Munda, wife of former Chief Minister Arjun Munda, who had been named a vice president, refused to come on board. “I have personal engagements and I shall not be able to give time to the post. I shall continue to be a party worker,” Meera Munda said.
Marandi’s nomination of Veer Vijay Pradhan as the state BJP Yuva Morcha chief was also opposed. Several youth wing leaders sat on dharna at state BJP headquarters to protest the nomination. Former Finance Minister, Yashwant Sinha, who had declined to serve as a special invitee, supported the youth wing leaders and met them.
Marandi was then summoned to New Delhi, a process that culminated in his resignation as the Jharkhand BJP chief.
“We respect Tala Marandi who maintained the party tradition by offering his resignation after the court issued summons to him,” Raghubar Das told reporters in Jamshedpur, referring to the case against Munna’s alleged marriage with a minor girl.