Cutting his teeth early into politics as a teenager Mr. Arjun Munda had a rather fiery baptism in public life when he joined the Jharkhand Movement spearheaded by JMM for the creation of a separate state for tribals. Learning the ropes quickly and deftly Mr. Munda’s organizational skills and leadership abilities soon came to the fore for everyone to see in a very short span of time. His amicable nature and his extraordinary people and communication skills made him immensely popular. He soon emerged as a political force to reckon with and got the nod to contest the 1995 Bihar assembly elections on JMM ticket and won. His mastery over major languages like English, Hindi, Bengali and Oriya along with tribal dialects of the Jharkhand-Orissa region such as Mundari, Sadri, Ho, Oraon, Santhali and others widened his reach and popular base. His fame spread far and wide and he soon became a household name earning support and respect of the masses for his selfless work and contribution to make a difference in their lives.
After completion of its 5-year term in 1996, the Indian National Congress lost power. In the ensuing general elections people gave a fractured mandate leading to a hung parliament and nearly 3-year long state of chaos and confusion in Indian politics. Government of one political formation came to power and made way for the other in quick succession and the game of musical chairs continued until 1999 when a semblance of political stability came back with over two dozen parties joining hands in an alliance led by Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who formed the NDA government at the center in 1999 and completed its full-term but lost power back to the Congress Party in 2004.
The state of utter chaos in Delhi also caused severe damage to the prospects of Jharkhand’s creation. JMM, the principal political outfit leading the Jharkhand Movement, was sharing power in Bihar with RJD government under Lalu Yadav, who first endorsed the cause of Jharkhand and then backed out. This led to an environment of uncertainty and the dream of Jharkhand was kept hanging in the air. JMM’s lure for power and its dubious role in compromising the prospects of Jharkhand’s creation led to complete disillusionment of Mr. Munda with his own party. He decided to quit JMM and joined BJP since they were quite vocal in their support for Jharkhand and showed firm commitment by incorporating their intent of forming three new states (Uttarakhand, Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand) in their election manifesto if voted in. NDA came to power in 1999 and under the Prime Minister Vajpayee the ruling alliance went ahead and created three new states as promised. Jharkhand was formed along with Uttarakhand and Chhatisgarh in 2000 and a long and cherished dream of the tribal communities of Jharkhand having their own state finally came to fruition.
Mr. Arjun Munda became Welfare Minister in the Babulal Marandi-led 1st NDA government in Jharkhand in November 2000. Although not considered glamorous and powerful Mr. Munda looked at his Welfare portfolio as a godsend opportunity to lay the groundwork for the uplift of Jharkhand’s have-nots’ from the scourge of poverty and hopelessness. Right from the word go he put his head down and worked hard on drawing up a blueprint for sound welfare policy and robust programs that could usher in the process of social and economic transformation in the hinterlands of the state. His people-centric schemes earned him the respect of fellow lawmakers and colleagues in government and endeared him to masses. When Marandi government fell in March, 2003 due to controversial and divisive Domicile Policy Mr. Munda emerged as the consensus candidate to lead the ruling coalition and was sworn in as the 2nd CM of Jharkhand at the young age of 35.
As the leader of the ruling alliance his canvas had now expanded manifold covering the entire state and he right away started working on crafting a holistic, integrated, and inclusive development model for Jharkhand. While continuing with his empowering welfare schemes and strengthening of educational and healthcare infrastructure he started envisaging an industrial makeover of his nascent state. Making a great start on a long and arduous journey, he stitched up MoUs with a large number of Indian business houses and MNCs with a clear roadmap for growth and development through optimal utilization of state’s rich natural and mineral resources in participatory partnership with the traditional inhabitants of the land, the indigenous tribal communities. His government developed well-designed 2-yr and 3-yr long skill development and job training programs with a view to preparing adequate number of local youth for employment with the partner companies during the time-interval when they set up the necessary infrastructure and equipment to launch their operations. It was a great example of smart human resources planning and management for creating and readying up tailor made human resource assets for the industries from amongst the local populace. The plan had the potential to transform Jharkhand’s status from being a laggard state to earning the badge of a developed and prosperous one through generating thousands of jobs for the local young men and women and creating a lot of wealth in the process through various industrial and economic activities supplemented by respectable export earnings, a win-win for both parties. However, the coalition politics played the spoilsport and the development agenda of the State got sacrificed at the altar of personal greed and ambition of coalition partners. Unfortunately that has been the story of Jharkhand ever since its formation in 2000. Factional fights, coalition compulsions, one-upmanship and ego clashes have come to characterize and dominate the polity of the State which in turn has relegated peoples’ aspirations and expectations to the backburner and is keeping the state poor and backward despite its famed bounty of natural and mineral resources.
The journey from the welfare minister to the chair of the chief minister in less than three years of state formation presents an extraordinary tale of a politician endowed with a statesman-like vision and speaks volumes about his exemplary leadership and team building skills. His charming personal and professional qualities are like the icing on the cake and clearly set him apart from his peers who are awestruck by the way he conducts himself in public life, a personification of supreme confidence and comfort level emanating from self-belief and the abiding trust of his people.
A leader is what he stands for and what he does for his people. Mr. Arjun Munda has a clear vision and his spirits are indomitable. His dedication is unflinching and his commitment to transforming Jharkhand into a healthy, educated, and prosperous state is total and unwavering. In spite of coalition constraints and limitations whenever Mr. Munda found the right opportunity he crafted people-centric policies and launched several pragmatic and robust plans and programs which got national and international attention and were even emulated by few Indian States later. His path breaking bicycle plan to increase school enrollment and reduce dropout rate for girl students in villages, Kanyadan Yojna to provide assistance in solemnizing marriages of girls from BPL families, and Laxmi Ladli Yojna to promote welfare of the girl child from underprivileged families through education and safe motherhood have stood the test of time and are considered gems of socially and fiscally responsible schemes par excellence.
And the journey continues….! It would be fitting to conclude his political discourse with a quote from the renowned poet Robert Frost, “…the woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep…..”