Arjun Munda interview: ‘Entire world knows today about Birsa Munda’ - Hindustan Times
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Arjun Munda interview: ‘Entire world knows today about Birsa Munda’

By, Khunti
May 02, 2024 10:30 PM IST

Munda spoke on several issues, including related to tribals and farmers, alleged misuse of agencies, besides his and his party’s electoral prospects in the general elections. Edited excerpts.

Arjun Munda, union minister for agriculture and tribal affairs, has been Jharkhand chief minister thrice and currently represents Khunti, the Lok Sabha seat identified with tribal icon Birsa Munda. In 2019, he won the seat with a slender margin of 1400 votes. He is once again locked in a direct battle against Kalicharan Munda of the Congress. In an interview with Hindustan Times, Munda spoke on several issues, including related to tribals and farmers, alleged misuse of agencies, besides his and his party’s electoral prospects in the general elections. Edited excerpts.

Arjun Munda, union minister for agriculture and tribal affairs (Rupesh/HT Photo)
Arjun Munda, union minister for agriculture and tribal affairs (Rupesh/HT Photo)

The election campaign is at its peak. Voting would be held in 10 days in your constituency? What is your assessment?

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It’s the people of Khunti who would win and contribute in making Prime Minister Narendra Modi for third time.

Though Modi is the most dominant factor in the election, how are you being able to assess your position, or performance as an MP?

Comprehensive work has been done in Khunti constituency with its self-respect and development being its bedrock. It is being done in continuum. It’s a different thing that the state government has been indifferent towards development. Still, it was my constant endeavour to educate the outside world about the historical identity of Khunti. As a result, this place is now being discussed globally. Today, the entire world knows about Bhagwan Birsa Munda. Similarly, research is on about several other locals who were co-warriors with him.

We need to factor in what was the basis of their (Birsa Munda) struggle? It was Jal, Jungle, Zameen. It is in that context that I have selected 254 villages in Khunti for developing them into model villages. However, the state government took three years in releasing the funds despite the allocation being made by the government of India. It shows how indifferent this state government has been.

This model village project is of your department or only for your constituency? What all are covered?

This is government of India project under which 36,000 villages have been covered across the country, of which 254 are in my constituency Khunti alone. In other states, the progress is satisfactory, but Jharkhand has been lagging. After repeated efforts, the fund has been allocated to the districts now. Jadur Akhra is a customary place for Mundas for celebration of festivals like Sarhul. Such Jadur Akhras are under construction in the villages. The state government took one year to finalise tenders.

I have allocated funds to the state government for development of Dombiri Pahad, Ulihatu village, the Khunti lock-up were Birsa Munda was lodged after arrest. I have given funds for library, training centre for documentation training to avail the rights under Forest Rights Act. But the implementation is the job of the state machinery. I have given funds under special central assistance for construction of all interdistrict connecting roads in the constituency. Most of them are complete. Khunti bypass road has been sanctioned. Now it depends on the state government how long they take for land acquisition.

While you have listed several development projects for the constituency, one caveat is of alleged non-cooperation of the state. Won’t this give a weapon to target you among people that ultimately the work remained incomplete?

In that case, it is them who should answer. It is the state government who should clarify whether they have received the funds or not. It is the INDIA (alliance) people who should come out clean on what basis they are seeking votes. There is rampant corruption in Nal Ka Jal scheme. I have come across this in every village. The centre has allocated funds, but people are not getting water. Anyone can go can do a survey of it.

While you are claiming that a lot has been done for tribal community and Birsa Munda, his family was sharing stage with your principal opponent on the nomination day?

Was it right that you bring his family member for nomination? Just to win elections? What can be more unfortunate than that. You did nothing for them till now. You did not even give the right recognition to Birsa Munda, but you are using them for political gains.

Despite the unique identity of Khunti, it is equally true that this is one of the most underdeveloped areas on the map of India, leading to massive unemployment and migration? Could you do anything specific to arrest that trend?

This has been a major issue here for long. We would also often hear about human trafficking. I held special camps. Target was to ensure that girls get employment through training even as they pursue their education. I had set a target of 2000. Many of our local girls are now working in Tata Electronics. It has not only trained them, rather there has been transformation in their personality and lifestyle. So I have made individual efforts as well for such issues.

Besides tribal affairs department, you were also given agriculture portfolio. We saw farmer protests and you were one of the key negotiators. Is this issue of MSP only limited to north Indian states or you also find resonance elsewhere in this election?

I would like to underline that the prime minister has been committed to addressing all genuine issues of the farmers. We have also always worked that we grow strength by strength in food security and agricultural export and in turn help growth of the farmers. We have succeeded in a big way in this sector. If you compare the growth of production, especially wheat and rice, in 10 years, as compared to the previous government. We have become self-sufficient. Besides promoting cereal production, we are also pushing for palm oil production. We are pushing for cereal production Gram, Arhar, Tur. We are deficient in Tur, but we are trying to push it up. And it was in this context that Kisan Samman Nidhi was started wherein they get 6,000 per annum through DBT. And PM takes review of this personally.

You are talking about achievements, but the opponents are raising the bar. They are promising to give MSP on each of the agriculture produce, which is a major poll promise. Could it matter in the election?

When is the opposition making such promises? On the eve of the election. They were in power in the country for 60 years. Why was this not done then? Had their intention been clean, they would have done it long back. Today they are making such announcement simply to counter a very viable ongoing welfare scheme and grab power. The intent is not welfare of farmers, but a mere populist announcement to mislead people.

As a minister, do you think it is technically possible for any government to provide MSP on every produce?

I would not make any comment on this issue because at present we are not in a decision mode. But I would surely underline that they are trying to mislead the farmers for political benefits. The procurement done under MSP regime is fixed. The rest is left for the open market, so that they can fetch market value.

But that is being discussed major poll issue?

There is a huge role of experts in determining this. And they are not talking like experts. The opposition is making wild claims, just to make a comeback to power.

BJP manifesto promises ration scheme for 80 crore people for next five years. Are we comfortable with our foodgrain stock, because a major part of the country practises rain-fed agriculture, often leading to droughts?

We always maintain buffer stock in the country. But we are also working out a long-term Eastern Region Rain-fed Area programme for pushing a natural green revolution in the eastern India. We also organised Kisan Melas, especially in the eastern areas, for education of farmers about the government initiatives and schemes. Also, while we talk of MSP regime, the state government here has still not developed a robust system for procurement and payment. The LAMPS-PACS system still not apt to procure and make timely payment like we do under the Kisan Nidhi Scheme.

War against corruption and nepotism seems to be two biggest narratives of BJP in this election. However, the arrest of Hemant Soren seems to be growing into a major political issue. Will it be counter-productive?

A common man in the state is fed up with corruption. Work not even at the lowest pedestal is being done without corruption. Transfer-posting has also become an industry, When that happens, there is no one to control the bureaucrats.

But the allegation of misuse of agencies is gaining ground, also among tribal groups supporting Hemant Soren.

The agencies are acting against the corrupt across the country. It is not limited to this state or any tribal leader. They are independent agencies and are working accordingly.

There is a sense that Soren family and the JMM are gaining sympathy, especially among the tribal community, against the action by the agencies.

Why seek sympathy? They should inform people about what they have done. They are trying to gain sympathy for sure. But they need to tell the truth whether these are real or fabricated cases. If they are false cases, the doors of judiciary are open. They should have trust in the Indian judicial system and not raise questions against them.

In 2019, we witnessed Modi wave. Most of the seats BJP won in Jharkhand was by huge margins, barring your seat where you won only by around 1400 votes. How is the situation different for you this time round?

The Modi wave is still there. Additionally, the governance model has built the confidence in the masses. If you see the BJP manifesto, it’s clear that we are committed to what we promise. The formation of Jharkhand is an example. It was in our manifesto. Similarly, removal of Article 370. People like that honesty and commitment in governance. We have won confidence of people.

There is an important issue in the state about giving ST status to the Kurmis. Your department plays a critical role in it.

It is related not only to my department. This is a matter related to constitutional framework of an expert study group and RGI. This is not going to be done by any single ministry. It’s a constitutional process, wherein such issues are assessed at different layers. And the first and foremost role is of the state and they view it.

So won’t this issue have any adverse impact?

The community (Kumris) you are talking about has always voted with a nationalistic mood. They have given primacy to national interest. And this election is for the nation.

You are also campaigning in other states as well. What is your assessment? Is Abki Baar 400 Paar an achievable slogan?

We go in the election based on our performance and having trust in people of this country. I am confident that people would take a wise decision for our forward journey to make this country a Viksit Bharat.

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