Congress, BJP in close contest for tribal votes in Gujarat
As Gujarat gets ready to go to the polls next month, the closest contest is going to be perhaps over the hilly and densely forested eastern peripheries of the state, where the majority of the population is tribal in origin.
The tribal parts of the state, called Poorvi Patti (Eastern Belt), constitute 26 of Gujarat's 182 constituencies. Adivasis comprise 14-15 percent (five million) of Gujarat's population. There are 37 tribes in the state. The majority of these are Bhils, who in turn are subdivided into Vasavas and Rathwas. Other tribes include Dhodias, Chaudharys, Gamits and Halapatis.
The spoils were divided equally between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), now making its third bid for power, and the Congress in the last elections.
And this time is likely to be no different, say analysts with the BJP not doing enough for the development in the area and the Congress unable to play up the ruling party's failures.
"It is going to be close," said Satyakam Joshi from the Surat-based Centre for Social Studies (CSS).
"Gujarat's adivasis (tribals) are not very happy with a decade of Modi's rule. Disparities have increased a lot. But so has polarisation. Things are not well with the Congress either. I can predict 12-13 seats for the BJP. A lot will depend on the Congress' choice of candidates," Joshi told IANS.
After Gujarat was carved out of the Bombay Presidency in 1960, one of its chief ministers, the Congress' Madhavsinh Solanki (who served four terms), pioneered the politics of KHAM - Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim - in the 1970s and 80s. The formula worked and succeeded in garnering votes for the Congress.
But with the rise of the Hindu right, Gujarat's tribal areas became a battleground between Sangh outfits and evangelical Christian missionaries seeking 'to harvest' tribal souls.
With Sangh outfits making inroads into tribal areas, the Poorvi Patti is no longer a Congress stronghold and will see a close fight Dec 13 and 17.
"In the last four assembly and Lok Sabha polls, there has been neck-and-neck competition though with greater inclination towards the Congress in comparison to the rest of the state," said Ganesh Devy, founder of the Adivasi Academy in Chhota Udepur's Tejgadh and an authority on Gujarat's tribals.
"The Congress will take 55-60 percent of the vote with the BJP garnering 40-45 percent," he estimated.
But what about Modi's sops like inducting tribals in his cabinet, nominating a tribal as assembly speaker and creating new 'tribal' districts?
"All that does not help. For the tribal areas have lagged behind the rest of Gujarat in development," said Joshi.
Besides development, Gujarat's tribals are also looking for redressal of other issues.
"There is a lot of simmering going on in tribal areas over these issues," he said.
"They want implementation of the Fifth Schedule of the constitution which mandates that the permission of a Tribal Advisory Council be taken before any mining or industrial activity is taken up in tribal areas.
"Then there is the Forest Rights Act of 2006. Just 12-13 percent of claimants under this act have been compensated.
"The Panchayati Raj Extension to Scheduled Areas Act of 1998 has not yet been implemented in tribal areas. NREGA is weakly implemented here. There is also weak implementation of wages. While Rs.137 is the standard wage for agricultural labour, here it is Rs.70-75," Joshi explained.
Gujarat's tribals have been losers both ways, said Ashok Chaudhary of the Adivasi Ekta Parishad.
"If they do not have development, they will be unemployed. If development comes to their areas, their control over the forest and land will decrease."
"All we want is that we should get to keep what we have. That is the least we can expect from the next government in Gandhinagar," Chaudhary told IANS.
Poorvi Patti stretches from Banaskantha district on the Gujarat-Rajasthan border to Valsad district on the Gujarat-Maharashtra border. Besides Banaskantha and Valsad, it comprises the districts of Sabarkantha, Panchmahal, Dahod, Dangs and Navsari. It also comprises the brand new districts of Chhota Udepur (carved from Vadodara), Narmada (from Bharuch) and Tapi-Vyara (from Surat).
(Rajat Ghai can be contacted at email@example.com)