Chhattisgarh: political history

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‘Pathargadi’ campaign


Joseph John, Ahead of Chhattisgarh poll, a movement cast in stones, May 11, 2018: The Times of India

Six months ahead of assembly polls, a tribal selfrule movement is gathering steam across Chhattisgarh — intensifying after the BJP government cracked down on leaders of ‘Pathargadi’ campaign in Adivasi villages.

Pathargadi literally means ‘planting a stone’. Giant stone plaques, painted green, have come up in remote villages, declaring gram sabha as the supreme authority and maintaining that the area is under the Fifth schedule of Constitution. ‘Sabse unchi gram sabha,’ say the plaques. Some plaques carry the Ashok Stambh and others warn ‘outsiders’ not to enter their areas without the permission of the gram sabha.

The Pathargadi movement, which began in neighbouring Jharkhand, has now spread to tribal villages in Jashpur and Sarguja districts of Chhattisgarh. Reports coming in from remote Odgi area in Surguja and Jashpur indicate that it has tacit support of tribal leaders — cutting across party lines.

Young tribals are joining the movement, asserting their right to ‘Jal, Jungle, Jameen’. With election around the corner, Congress is quick to call it a rebellion. The BJP government is handling it with caution. CM Raman Singh said: “It’s okay if the movement is carried out in a democratic way. Once it turns undemocratic, action will follow.”

Soon, police began cracking down on activists. Home minister Ramsewak Paikra blamed certain retired tribal officials. Criticising the arrest of ‘Pathargadi’ movement leaders, Sarva Adivasi Samaj — an umbrella organisation of tribal communities in Chhattisgarh — announced a “jail bharo” agitation from May 15 if the arrested leaders aren’t released.

Samaj general secretary Naval Mandavi told TOI: “Attempts are being made to brand Pathargadi as an antinational activity. The stone plaques installed in villages only list the powers of gram sabha or the village council, provisions for tribal rights in the constitution and in the Panchayat Extension in scheduled Areas Act (PESA).”

The organisation will ask communities to hold their ‘traditional gram sabhas’ before May 21. “Stone plaques will be installed in tribal villages, clearly mentioning the powers of gram sabha, and Constitutional provisions that protect tribal rights,” he said, adding: “BJP leaders are wrong in claiming that the constitutional provisions written on the stone plaques are misleading. Isn’t it the duty of the government to educate tribals about its correct interpretation?”

A Congress delegation visited Pathargadi villages and claimed that the movement is the outcome of BJP government’s failure to implement tribal laws. State Congress chief Bhupesh Baghel and leader of the opposition T S Singhdeo met Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and submitted a report and told the media that Rahul had extended his support to the tribals’ cause. Gandhi is scheduled to address an Adivasi Sammelan at Pendra during his visit to Chhattisgarh on May 17.

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