Bihar Jharkhand Partition: A Historical Overview

On November 15th, the birthday of a courageous freedom fighter Birsa Munda from Chotanagpur region, one more chapter of history known as Bihar Jharkhand partition etched its indelible mark in India’s history in the year 2000. The name “Jharkhand” comprises of two words, Jhar – refers to forest and Khand means part of the land, describing a place as land of forest.

This significant moment of Indian history can be seen as a great example of a tale of political ambitions taking over the aspiration of tribal people of Chotanagpur region. The movement which was initially started for the cause of welfare of tribal populace by few student associations, later became an agenda for political parties of India. This journey beckons us to ponder in the direction of how a genuine intentions of the people may get converged with the complexities of politics, ultimately defeating the aspirations of the common man.

The journey of Bihar Jharkhand partition also unfolds the narrative of how different political parties became opportunistic over the course of period, flipping their side in support or against of the movement.To grasp the intricate history of the Bihar Jharkhand partition, we will segment the movement into distinct chronological periods.

Bihar Jharkhand Partition

Bihar Jharkhand Partition – Key factors

  • Exploitation – Adivasis people of region was highly exploited by dominant non-tribals. Land alienation was a significant issue during the era of pre-independence, tribal lands were often taken away by non-tribal landlords and colonial authorities, leaving tribals without access to their traditional resources and livelihoods.
  • Heavy industries and coal mining – Government acquired significant land to setup the heavy industries like HEC, SAIL, Coal India, Rourkela Steel Plan, Bokaro Steel Plant, Tata etc alienated the tribal’s from their own land. Additionally, the tribal people hired as low skilled labour in these heavy industries for low wages which forced them to work under non-tribal people.
  • Presence of Christian Mission – The presence of Christian missionaries brought about a transformative influence by introducing the tribal communities to Western education systems. This exposure raised the awareness among the locals about improved socio-economic prospects, gradually awakening them to the possibilities of a better life.
  • Cultural Suppression, social discrimination were other key factors.

1912 – 1938

In 1912, Bihar’s separation from Bengal served as a catalyst that awakened the educated youths of the Chotanagpur region. The presence of missionary institutions in the area exposed these young minds to Western educational systems, igniting their aspirations for change. Inspired by Bihar’s separation, the educated elite in Chotanagpur harnessed this momentum to instigate the same to other tribal students. Their goal was to advocate for the welfare of the tribal people, demand for better education, job prospects, and cultural respect. The Dacca Students Union played a pivotal role in driving this demand.

In 1918, a new association emerged under the name “Chotanagpur Improvement Society (CIS).” Led primarily by the same student associations, this union’s notable accomplishment was its presentation of the matter before the Simon Commission in 1928. This marked a historic moment as it was the first instance of advocating for a separate state.

By 1928, the CIS underwent a name change and became the “Chotanagpur Unnati Samaj.” However, this transformation did not yield significant outcomes due to limited mass involvement, confining its influence to elite students like Joel Lakra, Anand Mashi, Theble Oraon, Paul Dayal, and Bandi Oraon.

The Chotanagpur Unnati Samaj later fragmented into smaller entities, including Kisan Sabha and Chotanagpur Catholic Sabha. In 1937, all three entities contested the election, with Chotanagpur Catholic Sabha emerging victorious, influenced partly by the missionaries’ support. This marked the entry of politics into the Bihar Jharkhand partition movement, shaping the course of its evolution.

By the year 1938, leaders of these smaller entities resolved to take the movement to a national scale, leading to the formation of a new pan-tribal organization named as “Adivasi Mahasabha.” The core objective of the Adivasi Mahasabha was to advocate for a separate state, Jharkhand, in order to uplift the socio-economic status of tribal communities. During this period, Jaipal Singh Munda, the captain of India’s field hockey team and a gold medalist in the 1928 Olympics, joined this organization and eventually became president of Adivasi Mahasabha. Noteworthy developments that need to be mentioned involve how politics began to take the shape of opportunism.

  • The Muslim League extended support to the movement, aiming to establish a link between East and West Pakistan via Jharkhand.
  • Additionally, Jaipal Singh Munda sent tribal people to participate in World War 2, hoping that their contribution would gain the support of the British in their pursuit of a new state.

In 1940, Jaipal Singh Munda met with Subhas Chandra Bose to share his thoughts of making a new state as Jharkhand, however Mr. Bose rejected his intentions saying that this will negatively impact the India’s independence movement.

Adivasi Mahasabha failed to achieve its goal and Jaipal Singh’s political aspirations suffered a setback in the Constituent Assembly election of 1946.

The period between 1947 and 1950 saw no significant developments in this movement, as the entire nation was still immersed in the aftermath of independence.

1949 – 1957

In 1949, the Adivasi Mahasabha underwent a transformation, renaming itself as the Jharkhand Party and evolving into a fully-fledged political entity. This transformation marked a broader shift, as it embraced tribals from across Chotanagpur who could now join the political party without any membership fee. Under the leadership of Jaipal Singh Munda and Ignis Beck, the Jharkhand Party ventured into the political arena, contesting the Bihar Assembly election in 1952 and securing an impressive victory with 34 seats out of 325.

However, over time, the popularity of the Jharkhand Party began to fall due to a combination of factors. These included the inclusion of non-tribal individuals within the party, the expansion of the proposed Jharkhand territory to encompass certain districts from Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, and Bengal, and the non-tribal leaders shifting alignment toward larger parties like the Congress for developmental initiatives. This period coincided with challenging circumstances for farmers and rural tribal communities, marked by escalating land alienation, inadequate education opportunities, and limited employment prospects. These difficulties contributed to the dilution of the Jharkhand movement, as the agrarian challenges led to a form of radicalization that affected the movement’s pace.

1963 – 1972

The merger of the Jharkhand Party into the Congress left several senior leaders overlooked. This circumstance led to the formation of new political entities, including the All India Jharkhand Party by Bagun Sumrai and NE Horo. However, the All India Jharkhand Party subsequently fragmented into smaller parties such as the Hul Jharkhand Party, Prant Hul Jharkhand Party, and other entities like Birsa Seva Dal and Kranti Kari Morcha.

1973 – 1980

This marked an era with the influence of Marxism that introduced a new chapter in Jharkhand’s history – the establishment of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM). Three prominent leaders, Shibu Shoren with a strong base in Santhal Pragana, Binod Bihari Mahto representing the Kurmi community, and A.K. Roy, a notable figure in the coal sector, united to launch the JMM. This party was deeply influenced by Marxist ideologies and played a pivotal role in the Bihar Jharkhand partition movement.

JMM came into existence with clear objective of forming a new state and end the exploitation of tribals by non-tribals. During this period, the Dhan Kato Andolan, led by Shibu Soren and tribal communities, came to the forefront. In a forceful act, they reclaimed paddy crops from lands that were illegally seized by non-tribals and affluent individuals. The Dhan Kato movement was marked by its violent nature, leading to several reported incidents of causalities. As time progressed, the movement evolved into a concerted effort to reclaim land from non-tribal occupants.

Through a series of strikes, gherao, and other mobilization efforts, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) began to gain significant support from the masses. However, internal divisions among JMM leaders led to factions emerging within the party, resulting in instances of separations. In 1980, the JMM decided to form an alliance with the Congress (I) party and participated in elections.

Meanwhile, the Jharkhand Party faced challenges and was at the brink of decline. In the 1984 election, N. E. Horo stood as the sole candidate from the Jharkhand Party and managed to secure a seat. This period reflected the dynamic shifts in the political landscape of the region, with JMM navigating internal disagreements and aligning with other parties, while the Jharkhand Party faced dwindling prominence.

1986 – 1988

In 1986, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) established the All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU), which played a crucial role in the movement. The AJSU served as a pivotal bridge, facilitating JMM’s engagement with the masses through both nonviolent and assertive means. This was the year when AJSU fueled the movement with slogans like “No Jharkhand No election”. AJSU was the entity which opened the platform for students to participate in the movement at mass level.

During this period, a significant development was the creation of the Indian Council for Indigenous and Tribal People (ICITP) in 1987. This organization gained international recognition and was regularly invited to participate in discussions at the United Nations working group. The establishment of ICITP underscored the global significance of the indigenous and tribal rights movement in Jharkhand and highlighted its resonance on the international stage.
However, The Indian government maintained a contrary stance on ICITP and always denied the fact that India has tribal people.

1988 – 2000

In the year 1988, a diverse array of entities emerged, each expressing demands and providing support for the Jharkhand movement. Among them, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stands out distinctly. Initially opposed to state division, the BJP underwent a shift in perspective between 1988 and 1990. With the aim of countering the influence of leftist ideologies in the Jharkhand region, the BJP launched its own movement called “Vananchal,” advocating for a new state to uplift the Vanvasi communities. The BJP’s proposed Vananchal encompassed 12 districts of Bihar, differing from other entities that sought 21 districts across Bihar, MP, Orissa, and West Bengal.

The Congress party also supported the Jharkhand movement due to the involvement of Congressi leaders from the region who had been part of the Jharkhand movement prior to their merger with the Congress party.

In 1990, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) came to power, with Lalu Yadav assuming the position of Chief Minister of Bihar. RJD, particularly under Lalu Yadav, was initially opposed to the Jharkhand movement, fearing potential economic weakening of Bihar. During the same year, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) allied with the BJP and narrowed its demand to establish a new state with only the 12 districts of Bihar.

In 1995, Lalu Yadav introduced a new entity, the Jharkhand Area Autonomous Council (JAAC), to suppress the movement, with the involvement of Shibu Soren. However, this initiative was short-lived.

Finally, in 1998, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government decided to initiate the formation of the Jharkhand state. As a result, on November 15th, 2000, the state of Jharkhand was officially established in the chapters of Indian history.

– The Unrest Axle, Ethno-social movements in Eastern India – Gautam Kumar Bera
– Political identities and dilemma in Jharkhand Movement, India – Prasenjit Ghosh
– The Jharkhand Movement – R D Munda and S Bosu Mullick

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