A scheduled debate in poll bound Bastar
Meant for the administration and control of tribal areas, Schedules V and VI of the Constitution are back on the table in Bastar in election year.
Claiming that the Fifth Schedule that empowers governors on administering tribal areas has not been implemented properly in Bastar, the Adivasi Mahasabha and CPI recently held a fortnight-long padyatra across south Bastar demanding introduction of Sixth Schedule, which would give Bastar special status at par with Northeast states. Tribals can enact laws to manage forests, streams, cultivation, social customs etc, even constitute their courts, under Schedule VI.
The demand, which would ensure autonomous districts and regional councils, besides carving out special zones of administration, is not new. However, the Chhattisgarh polity, both the ruling BJP and Congress, has hardly shown any interest in the Fifth Schedule even as they are against Schedule VI in Bastar. They believe it would be political harakiri, amounting to relinquishing a resource-rich region.
In fact, Mahendra Karma had broken from the Congress and won polls as an Independent candidate from the Bastar Lok Sabha seat in 1996 polls after the then Digvijaya Singh government of undivided Madhya Pradesh proposed Schedule VI in the area. Karma had opposed the move saying autonomous regions would only help Maoists in Bastar.
Since then much blood has flowed down Dankini and Shankhini, the twin rivers of Dantewada. Adivasi Mahasabha president Manish Kunjam, among leaders Karma defeated in 1996, is now a major force in Bastar politics. The BJP and Congress watched his rally with caution as he demanded immediate de-militarisation of Bastar and implementation of the Sixth Schedule.
Considered close to Maoists — he carried medicines for abducted Sukma Collector Alex Paul Menon when he was in captivity — Kunjam is widely regarded as a young leader who is genuinely concerned for tribals. How his demands will impact the Assembly elections in Bastar later this year is something all are keenly watching.
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