A Dalit organisation observed a hartal in Kottayam on Tuesday when the BJP's state council was underway in the city of letters. The Cherama  Sambava Development Society (CSDS) was protesting against the alleged attacks on Dalits by CPM and its sister organisations. The hartal brought the town to a standstill, arguably for the first time in the history of Dalit protests in Kerala, as CSDS activists, including women, hit the streets to mark their protests. 

 

Perhaps the CSDS hartal was a reminder for BJP leadership too, that it would be ignoring the increasing influence of Dalit politics in Kerala at its peril. Responding to the writings on the wall, the BJP leadership meet decided to involve more actively in Dalit issues and take up land struggles across the state. 

 

Party state general secretary MT Ramesh said his party would actively participate in all land struggles in the state and would try to bring them under one umbrella. Nearly five lakh acres of government land is still with various private plantations despite the expiry of lease period. It is shocking that private plantations are enjoying occupancy of the land while three lakh families remain landless in the state, he added. 

 

By referring to the plantation land, the BJP leader was apparently referring to Chengara and Arippa struggles where the protesters, predominantly Dalits, are occupying plantations demanding land rights. The BJP is also planning to bring CK Janu, leader of the Adivasi Gotra Mahasabha, who joined the NDA camp ahead of the Assembly elections last year, into the forefront of the Dalit land struggle. 

 

BJP's decision to take up 'all land struggles-small and big' would naturally bring the longtime agitation for the restoration of the alienated tribal land in Kerala, especially in Attappady and Wayanad. It would also require the party to make its stand clear on the controversial Kerala Restriction on Transfer by and Restoration of Lands of Scheduled Tribes Act-1999, tribal land struggles across the state led by Left groups. Janu was the face of the tribal land struggles, and her organisation has long been demanding that each tribal family should be given five acres each along with a rehabilitation package.  Janu and her fellow activists were also demanding tribal self-rule and declaration of scheduled areas for tribes under 5th schedule of the Constitution. The BJP would find these issue too big a big to chew. 

 

It would also be interesting to watch how the party would tackle the touchy issues related to Forest Rights Act (FRA) implementation which remains in limbo in the state and the restoration of alienated tribal land. Though the BJP, in principle, is not against FRA, the Narendra Modi government has been trying to dilute it as is evident from the exemption given to plantations that are notified as forests within 75 years.