Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic tribes (DNTs) together make up almost 12 crore votes in India. This is a substantial number. However, DNT communities have been variously classified as Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Minorities in different parts of the country. Absorbed into these categories, DNT members are unaware of their DNT identity and even the elected DNT leaders, some of whom lead parties, are engrossed with issues other than that of DNT communities.
At present, DNTs lead the following parties:
Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party
Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) was founded in 2002, under the leadership of Om Prakash Rajbhar. Before forming this party, he was a member of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). SBSP fielded 13 candidates in the 2014 General Election. Altogether, its candidates mustered 118,947 votes (0.02 per cent of the nationwide vote).
Ahead of the 2014 General Election, SBSP took the lead in forming the Ekta Manch (“Unity Forum”), a coalition of smaller parties in Uttar Pradesh. Om Prakash Rajbhar served as the convenor of the coalition. Om Prakash, who belongs to the DNT community, claimed that the votes of Rajbhars would be a deciding factor in the victory of the candidates. Currently, SBSP has four MLAs in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly. In the 2017 UP Assembly elections, the BJP along with its allies like Apna Dal(S) and SBSP bagged an overwhelming 325 seats. The SBSP won four out of the eight seats it had contested.
Hindustani Awam Morcha
Jitan Ram Manjhi, who served as the 23rd chief minister of Bihar from 20 May 2014 to 20 February 2015, leads the Hindustani Awam Morcha. Manjhi, who belongs to the Musahar community, earlier served as minister of welfare (SC and ST, Backward and Economically Backward Classes) in the Nitish Kumar Cabinet.
Manjhi has been a member of the Bihar Legislative Assembly since 1980. He has been associated with with several political parties: Indian National Congress (1980–1990), Janata Dal (1990–1996), Rashtriya Janata Dal (1996–2005) and JD (U) (2005–2015). He had also served as a minister in several Bihar state governments, under multiple chief ministers like Chandrashekhar Singh, Bindeshwari Dubey, Satyendra Narayan Sinha, Jagannath Mishra, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Rabri Devi. Manjhi’s community (Musahar) is included in the DNT list but he has become the Dalit face of Bihar politics.
Why should DNTs enter mainstream politics?
No community can afford to avoid electoral politics. DNT communities have always been kept out of mainstream politics and government. A fraction of DNTs have managed to enter the middle class and now have recognized injustice done to them by policymakers and the rest of society. Over the past three decades, they have been making crucial demands pertaining to constitutional identity, livelihoods, living conditions and housing.
The mindset of a section of DNT is to be “takers‟, rather than “givers or providers‟. They think that “benevolent” power centres will shower benefits in return for their loyalty. They have never considered themselves qualified for coming to power and having representation in decision-making.
All the laws affecting the DNT lives directly or indirectly are a legacy of draconian policy regimes under which they were estranged from natural resources, branded as thieves and separated from their spirituality intertwined with culture, lifestyle and livelihood. The governments have consistently been apathetic towards DNT issues. They have constituted a commission to look at DNT issues whenever elections approached, but never implemented the suggestions of these commissions. This present government’s stand on the Renke commission has been no different. Haribhau Rathod, former Member of Parliament, tabled a draft Bill in Parliament in 2008 for the amendment of the Indian Constitution to include DNTs under Scheduled Tribes. However, he withdrew the Bill having come under pressure from other party leaders.
Thus DNT communities are completely at the mercy of non-DNT decision-makers to have their issues addressed through amendments to the Constitution, new laws or executive orders. This is the reason a political party representing the DNTs is essential. There is the need of an ideologically strong DNT leader who is aware of all the issues of DNT communities. Such a person is less likely to be submissive to either the party leadership or upper caste interests. Yet this leader should also be able to join forces with like-minded members of others communities. Without consolidation of resources and votes from different sections of society, it is going to be difficult for DNTs to come to power. This brings to mind Pasumpon Muthuramalinga Thevar (30 October 1908 – 30 October 1963), perhaps the first person to start working on the political front for DNTs. He was initially part of the Congress and later the Forward Bloc. He was among those few leaders who mobilized the DNTs against the unjust Criminal Tribes Act that labelled the nomadic tribes as “habitually criminal” and imposed restrictions on their movements. The Act was eventually repealed in 1949.
The DNT political aspirants should work from the bottom up – gaining the trust of the community at the grass roots, grooming leaders at the ward and district level. There are also many small, listless political parties of SCs, STs, OBCs, DNTs and Minorities that could be brought together to forge a front.
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