British ethnographers and administrators commenced the documentation of Tribes and Caste in India. HA Rose, HH Risley, E Thurston, RE Enthoven, RV Russel and others made painstaking efforts to identify different communities present in British India. After Independence, some anthropologists and sociologists explored the lives of tribal communities; however, their political struggle and democratization processes have largely remained untouched. Handbook of Tribal Politics in India has successfully attempted to document the political journey of various tribal groups across the States. Multiple authors discuss the issue of tribal autonomy versus inclusion and preferential consideration versus equal citizenship of tribals in democratic India. Hence, the book is a true source book on tribal politics in India. The editors of the handbook delineate the framework in which tribal identity and its politics are located in India.
The handbook begins with a useful introductory chapter, ‘Situating Tribal Politics in India’ that specifically addresses the five major issues outlined by the editors. Firstly, it explores the relationship between tribal communities and their electoral articulations at the Centre and State levels using both election data and field data. Secondly, it focuses on patterns, conditions and challenges that are encountered by tribal communities in mainstream democratic politics. Thirdly, it situates the demands and aspirations of tribal communities in different tribal and non-tribal political parties. Fourthly, it evaluates the contributions of tribal political representatives in policy making related to tribal communities. Lastly, the book also employs intersectionality approach to highlight the role of gender in tribal politics in India. In short, the handbook addresses the ways in which tribal identity and tribal politics has been shaped and reshaped at the national and State level and maps the changing contours of tribal politics in contemporary India.
This large handbook, with 31 chapters is organized into three major sections. Section I contains a single chapter on the ‘Genealogy of Tribal Politics in India’. According to Xaxa, the inception of tribal politics was against the imposed colonial rules and regulations against their freedom and autonomy. The chapter takes into account the various tribal movements which occurred in colonial and postcolonial India and access of those movements in representational democracy. The erosion of the self-rule of tribal communities was and continues to be a central issue that churns tribal politics in an electoral democracy.
Section II ‘Tribal Politics at the National Level’ comprises seven fascinating chapters. Ambagudia pays due attention to the representation of tribes in colonial and postcolonial political system. The shift from a multi-member constituency to a single-member constituency in Independent India is adequately captured by discussing the confusion multi-member constituency caused in the initial years of democratic journey. Although the Government of India Act, 1935 provided nominal representation to tribes, it disregarded the ‘tribalized’ form of democracy demanded by the tribal leaders (p. 46). Representation in democratic institutions was crucial for marginalized communities. The Delimitation Commission demarcated constituencies for tribals to become politically ‘inclusive’ that created political elites among tribal communities. Valerian Rodrigues in his chapter ‘Democracy’s Ghettos: Adivasi Leadership in India’ examines several tribal movements that have produced a distinct brand of leadership through organizations such as the Adivasi Mahasabha, 1936 and the Naga National Council, 1946. He claims that representational politics confined Adivasi leadership, further it led to co-optation of Adivasis. Moreover, the tribal elite fell prey to political compromises denting the future of tribal communities (p. 58).