Modern Asian Studies


The Ideology of Tribal Economy and Society: Politics in the Jharkhand, 1950–1980

Stuart corbridgea1

a1 Syracuse University

In this paper I want to explore the implications of the rise and fall of Jharkhandi ethnoregionalism from the point of view of tribal policy and tribal politics in Independent India. More especially I want to examine an ideology of tribal economy and society which informs most existing accounts of Jharkhandi politics and which makes the case for a specifically ‘tribal’ policy. The main propositions of this ideology are recounted in Section One of this paper. They are (1) that the concept of a tribe is given and uproblematical; (2) that the tribals of South Bihar are the original inhaitants of the Jharkhand, where they still predominate (see Figure I); and (3) that tribal politics and tribal policies are effective because individual tribes are themselves undifferentiated, united and geographically concentrated. (A corollary of this third proposition is that any decline in Jharkhandi ethnoregionalism since the mid-1960s must be due to factional disputes within the tribal leadership and/or to inter-tribal clashes, perhaps along denominational lines). These three propositions are examined in Sections Two, Three and Four of the paper, where they are measured against the recent historical experience of India's Jharkhand. The implications of any shortcomings in the ideology of tribal economy and society are taken up in the concluding section of the paper where comments are offered, too, on an alternative ‘model’ of tribal policy and politics in the Jharkhand.