(Are these the ‘good days’ mentioned by Narendra Modi?)
‘Achhe din aane waale hai,’ (Good days are coming) has been a slogan instilled by Modi in the political arena of the country. In an array of promises made by the man himself, towards tribal welfare, he seems to have just been shifting the focus. The community, as a whole, has always been frowned upon. They are easily manipulated and displaced, as and when the Prime Minister wishes to ‘sway the magic wand’ and evict them off their lands.
The PM-led, Bhartiya Janta Party has claimed its rule and foot in most of the states in a country of billions. Out of 1, 393, 790, 539 and the tribal population constituting about 8.2% of the entire population, how many votes has the party gathered through the tribal community in the Northeast and other parts of the country?
Focusing upon Arunachal Pradesh, the Dibang Dam controversy had been quite in the light since Modi took his pledge as a Prime Minister. Back in 2014, he garnered public attention towards water resource management, tourism, horticulture, handicrafts, wind and solar projects in the state of Arunachal Pradesh. Without mentioning the execution of large dams and the controversy in Arunachal Pradesh, he wrapped up his speech within these sectors.
The Dibang Multipurpose Project was a subject of suspicion and misconduct from 2008–2014. After the project received approval and was budgeted in 2008, word spread amongst the people residing within Arunachal Pradesh. And by people, it meant escalating to the displacement of about 2, 000 tribals belonging to the Idu Mishmi tribe in the state and the felling down of 2.7 lakh trees. Is this what he meant while inaugurating the World Sustainable Development Summit, 2021 and stated the health of the planet as the priority?
This move by the government was taken without the consultation of the public and instigated the prospects of state-wide protests, with the public demanding the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (the Ministry in charge of the project) to ‘go back.’
The tweet attached above highlights displacement numbers and equivalent facts stated by Tongam Rina, the Editor of The Arunachal Times. Close to the Mehao Wildlife Sanctuary, the state is home to animals including the snow leopard, Mithun, Mishmi Takin, elephants and hoolock gibbon. Does Modi wish to place the entire ecosystem up for extinction?
When the issue reached Guwahati, the leader of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) and Akhil Gogoi, an anti-dam activist scheduled a press meet.
“What will happen to the people living in downstream areas if the water is released from the 278-metre dam, forget about what will happen if the dam breaks?”
Backed by uninterrupted electricity, huge water volume storage and of course, a chance to claim rights over the River Brahmaputra that has its source in Tibet, the Prime Minister had his own motive, to begin with. Despite that, how could he be ignorant of the fact that the region has a rich biological cover and is seismologically an active zone? Moreover, if the constructions (Subansiri Lower; Tawang-I & II; Dibang; Tezu) were to begin, even scientists would not be able to predict the after-effects of this project.
Even after the setbacks received by him regarding the dam controversy, the investments on the project have been approved and according to Arunachal Pradesh’s Deputy CM and Minister-in-Charge Power,
“Efforts are on to revamp the development of Dibang MPP.”
On enquiring about the status of the project in the area, the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) said,
“For Dibang MPP, it will take another 108 months after approval and under the Tawang-I & II, it will take 78 and 83 months respectively.”
Quoting RST Sai, the NHPC Chairman and Managing Director, stated that even though the people have created havoc about the bigger dams, the NHPC has enough finance as it has a tuning of Rs 16, 000 crore. To this, Modi asked the people to,
“Maintain strength and solidarity.”
Within this period, the tribals’ rights were completely overshadowed and compensations were not provided. With 14 schemes announced for the tribals and with the existence of the Ministry of Tribal Welfare, the Prime Minister has only seen to be ignorant towards the two and has enforced his political agenda for personal gains. We have to consider the fact that tribals are being turned a blind eye to, in spite of a ‘Ministry’ and ‘promises’ made by him. Does the ‘face of BJP’ now understand the absence of tribal vote-share, in spite of states having a tribal presence?
Apart from Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram, the state of Jharkhand has equally been affected by the strategies which were unfulfilled by the centre. In Jharkhand, Modi had delivered a speech in 2019 and stated that ‘until he is in power, no one would seize Adivasis’ land.’ Yet, his party contradicted his own claims and played the ‘wild card’ into setting schemes against their rights. The state of Jharkhand has a tribal presence of 26% and they have 21 seats reserved for themselves in the Lok Sabha.
As per data released by India Today Data Intelligence Unit (DIU), it was inferred that tribals have since been distancing themselves from the BJP. On analysis, it was found that there were about 522 assembly seats reserved for the STs in 20 states. The results processed by the Trivedi Centre for Political Data, Ashoka University, showcased that the party has only 27.57% of the seats from the 22 states. Whereas, in the central Indian tribal belt, including Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, the BJP has 20% of the total seats.
In the same year, a secret draft was leaked, stating that India’s forests will be converted into a virtual police state giving forest guards the right to shoot tribals mercilessly and hand over their lands to private companies. After national and international protests, this was taken down, but a fear persists over the government bringing it back in other forms.
Right after, on Feb 13, about 8% of the population faced a threat of eviction. As the forest dweller community and wildlife conservation groups filed a petition in the Supreme Court, orders were sent to State Governments to evict the ‘illegal dwellers and encroachers.’ Across 16 states, STs and forest dwellers were asked to evict by July 24, whose claims under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) had been rejected. It is ironic because the Supreme Court had given tribal communities a ‘pass to heaven’ in 2006 by granting them ownership over the land. And now, calling them encroachers seems strange. When the community needed a pillar of support, the Modi Government refused to defend their interests.
Shomona Khanna, a Senior Lawyer and former Legal Consultant to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs stated this as an ‘Act of Omission’ by the Ministry and Centre.
With these activities being conducted under the supervision of the Prime Minister and his party, the needs of the tribals are being ignored and unattended. The tribals must be seen as equals, but they are still at a border that might cause them death to cross. Their rights over permanent housing are replaced by our current Prime Minister. If this state of affairs were to continue, the workings of the country will likely be similar to a communist rule. This will lead to the downfall of the Amit Shah-run BJP party in the upcoming elections and the cover of manifestos will be blown open, sooner or later by the common man.