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BJP "ignores", Congress "downplays" land distribution to Dalits, Adivasis, Backwards

By PS Krishnan, IAS (Retd)*
Almost all analysts who have commented on political parties' manifestos have ignored the scheduled caste) SC, scheduled tribe (ST) and socially and educationally backward class (SEdBC) aspects. Rare exceptional analysts have referred to SCs, STs and SEdBCs briefly without being able to deal with important specificities. Even self-adulatory articles of party leaders and propagandists share this blindness.
For example, the article of Piyush Goyal, Minister for Railways and Coal, titled “Speaking the Mind of India” in the "Times of India" dated April 15, 2019, while claiming that the BJP manifesto has made commitments to every sphere of society and listing them, mentions in passing “dignity and justice for Dalits, tribal and Backward Classes”.
Goyal’s mention in the same article of “affirmative reservation” has nothing to do with the SCs, STs and SEdBCs as it is for the “Economically Weaker Sections” of society, who as defined in the 103rd Constitution Amendment Act 2019 excludes SCs, STs and SEdBCs.
"India Today’s" issue dated April 22, 2019 contains a four-page comparative listing of “the big ticket plans and promises being offered by the BJP and the Congress”, compiled by Kaushik Deka. This ignores the promises made by them in respect of SCs, STs and SEdBCs, Apparently, the promises and also omissions in respect of approximately the 3/4th of the people of India are not “big ticket” enough to merit elite media attention.
Denial of the right to own land and subjection to agrestic slavery/ serfdom/ agricultural labourhood has been one of the major instruments of oppression of Dalits and is one important aspect of the multi-dimensional phenomenon of “untouchability”. Their forced landlessness and “Untouchability” are closely related.
Therefore, elimination of the landlessness of rural Dalits is of prime importance to the socio-economic liberation of the Dalit masses and to fundamental alteration of the caste/“untouchability”-based socio-economic relations, inherited over the centuries and substantively and essentially continued in the decades after Independence till now, which is hampering optimal progress of the nation as a whole.
Post-Independence land-reforms have concentrated on abolition of zamindari and other intermediary systems and conferring occupancy rights and ownership on tenants. Land-ceiling Acts intended to take over lands above the prescribed ceiling limit, for distribution to the landless have been enacted with loopholes and poorly implemented, so that the surplus land that came into the government’s hands was too little to make significant difference to the landlessness of Dalits.
The practical course now is to distribute all land available with the government to every rural family of Dalits and, along with them, to other rural landless agricultural labour families, who mostly belong to the SEdBCs, especially the Most Backward Castes among the SEdBCs.
The twin measures of provision of a viable extent of agricultural land for all rural families of SCs and, along with them, for rural landless agricultural labour families of STs and other communities and a comprehensive national programme of minor Irrigation of all lands of Dalits and Adivasis, are of vital importance for the economic liberation of SCs and STs.
The BJP manifesto is completely silent on this issue, as has been its manifesto of 2014 and manifestos prior to that. The Congress manifesto promises to acquire Panchami and Mahar lands in the occupation of non-Dalits and distribute them to SCs and STs. It is certainly necessary to take over Panchami and Mahar lands in the occupation of non-Dalits and distribute them to SCs. But, such lands are too little to eliminate the landlessness of SCs. Panchami and Mahar lands have nothing to do with the STs.
They are small pieces of lands given to SCs in the past to enable them to secure their bare subsistence and to be available for agricultural servitude on the lands of land-owning/land-controlling upper castes. Panchami lands pertain only to Tamil Nadu and Mahar lands only to Maharashtra. While this is too little for the elimination of landlessness of SCs, what STs need is something else.
What the Congress Manifesto of 2019 says about land in relation to SCs is a regression from the common minimum programme (CMP) of the UPA of 2004 under the head “Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes”, which contained the commitment that the “UPA government will launch a comprehensive national programme for minor irrigation of all lands owned by Dalits and adivasis. Landless families will be endowed with some land through proper implementation of land ceiling and land redistribution legislation.”
The comprehensive commitment on this important issue in the Congress Manifesto and CMP of the UPA of 2004, on which no action was taken, no programme was launched, no budgetary provision was made, no organizational systems were established, despite the President of India’s solemn commitment and despite my repeated reminders to the leaders of the Congress and the UPA, personally and in my letters, was given a go by in the Congress manifesto of 2014 and continues to be missing in the Congress manifesto of 2019.
The BJP manifesto deals with SCs, STs and SEdBCs in the Section titled “Inclusive Development”. That Section contains a broadly-worded commitment as follows: “We are committed to ensure benefits of constitutional provisions of the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and backward classes. We will ensure that proper representation and opportunities are available for these sections.”
Referring to the SCs, STs and SEdBCs as “sections” is a serious error. They constitute the bulk of population of India. The word 'sections’ is to be used only for non-SC, non-ST and non-SEdBCs. The irony of referring to the SCs, STs and SEdBCs as sections has been pointed out in the Report (2002) of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC) (Chairperson: Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah).
The Constitutional term used for them, as seen from the title of Part XVI, is “classes” – “classes” not in the sense of economic classes, but in the sense of social classes, as is evident from a reading of the Constitution and from a clear understanding of Indian society reality.
Under the Section on “Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes”, the CPI(M) in its Manifesto lists seven items that it stands for. One of them is the “distribution of five acres of arable land for cultivation of a landless family from SC and ST communities”. This is welcome, and is a better formulation than that of the Congress manifesto and silence of the BJP manifesto.
The CPI(M)’s commitment will carry conviction if, without further loss of time, the LDF Government headed by it in Kerala immediately takes over about Five Lakh acres of tenure-expired leased lands still left in the hand of the Harrisons, Tatas etc. and about 60000 acres of other tenure-expired lease lands and distribute them among all rural SCs and landless ST and other landless agricultural labour families of the State, so as to eliminate their landlessness.
Surprisingly and disappointingly, the CPI’s manifesto is as silent on this issue as the BJP’s Manifesto, though the Revenue Minister in the Kerala Government, who is in charge of the task of taking over of the above tenure-expired lease lands and their distribution among all rural SCs and other landless households, belongs to CPI.
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*Excerpts from the paper "Election Manifestos 2019: Analysis from Point of View of SCs, STs and SEdBCs – Potential Post-Poll Use". Click HERE to read the paper

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