Janu takes third corner in Bathery bout

Janu takes third corner in Bathery bout
In early 2016, the ST-reserved constituency of Sultan Bathery was bracing for a traditional, all-too familiar poll face-off between the Congress-led ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) and the CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF).

But two weeks ahead of the Assembly election, an engaging three-way battle is taking shape here — tribal activist C K Janu’s entry in the fray as an NDA-backed independent candidate is opening up interesting possibilities in the constituency where tribespeople form a major vote base.

CPM’s Rugmini Subramanian is taking on sitting MLA of the Congress I C Balakrishnan in Sultan Bathery where the UDF has traditionally had an edge over its rivals. But with Janu in the mix, parties are not likely to attach too much importance to the past.

The 46-year-old Janu who belongs to the Adiya tribe started out with farm labourers’ movements in Wayanad before rising as a leader who mobilised tribespeople in fights against encroachment of their land.

In 2003 Janu, along with her supporters, moved into a stretch of forest land in Muthanga in a show of protest against the government’s failure to release a land-for-landless package. A failed eviction drive and subsequent police firing led to deaths of a tribal and a police constable. Janu had emerged as the new face of resistance for the marginalised. Her joining hands with a BJP-led coalition, however, has surprised many and left even some of her supporters extremely disappointed.

Janu has reiterated that she had to look at a political alternative because both the major political fronts in the state had failed her people. She maintains that the alliance doesn’t translate to her endorsement of BJP’s core ideologies. “She has a point when she says it’s time to look beyond protests and move closer to power because ultimately, only a share in power could make a positive difference to the lives of the marginalised. The issues she has raised are still relevant but they’ll have to be raised in a different manner now,” Mohandas, a schoolteacher, said.

Posts on Janu’s official Facebook page come with a hashtag seeking a vote for “manninte makkal” (children of the soil). Will Bathery play a new, earthy political theme? Congress and CPM activists in the constituency dismiss the Janu challenge claiming that her BJP affiliation is a handicap she’ll struggle to overcome.

Ramachandran, a CPM area committee member, is not amused by the hype around Janu and feels that the tribal leader has been steadily losing her relevance. “Members of her own Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha (a collective of tribal groups) are against her decision to join hands with the BJP. Members of the Kuruma tribe which is a traditional support base for the BJP will also oppose her candidature,” Ramachandran told Deccan Herald.

The CPM is building its campaign targeting what it calls non-performance of the sitting MLA in addressing issues of recurring man-animal conflicts and poor healthcare facilities in the constituency. The MLA, however, said he was looking at a verdict more decisive than in 2011. “I was a newcomer in the constituency in 2011. Now, what I’ve done in five years will speak for me,” Balakrishnan told Deccan Herald.

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