Claims and counter-claims apart, allegations and counter-allegations apart, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress, the key rivals in Gujarat’s December 2022 electoral contest, seem to have already identified the bottomline for victory and survival respectively.
The Adivasi and the Dalit Vote — in that order. This explains two simultaneous tribal meets, a three-day National Executive of the BJP’s Adivasi Morcha at Kevadiya Colony beginning on Monday (May 9) and a rally by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in tribal-dominated Dahod in Central Gujarat on Tuesday (May 10).
The BJP looks at its most ambitious target of bagging all 182 seats and, if not, at least beat 1985 Congress Chief Minister Madhavsinh Solanki’s record 149 out of 182 seats — something that Keshubhai Patel, the BJP’s first CM of 1995 and then of 1998, Narendra Modi and his BJP successors Anandiben Patel and Vijay Rupani haven’t been able to breach.
The highest it could achieve was during the December 2002 elections when the BJP took 127 seats under a strident Narendra Modi wave and the lowest 99 under Vijay Rupani in 2017. The Congress also gave an Adivasi chief minister, the late Amarsinh Chaudhary, though he was brought in after the ouster of Solanki in the wake of the anti-reservation riots in Gujarat in 1985.
While the BJP knows it must make a huge dent in the tribal areas, the Congress is well aware it must not only retain but also improve its performance in the tribal regions and that it must regain several lost Scheduled Caste seats and strengthen its OBC base — the key reason it has appointed veteran OBC leader Jagdish Thakor as the State President and tribal leader Sukhram Rathwa as the Leader of the Opposition.
As against the BJP’s usual meets that are planned months in advance, this three-day national Adivasi Morcha Executive was quickly rustled up after a feedback given to the party’s visiting National General Secretary (Organisation) BL Santhosh to Gujarat on May 6 and May 7.
Considered one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s key backroom boys, Santhosh held detailed region-wise strategy meetings where it was decided that the RSS would take charge of the 27 Scheduled Tribe and 13 Scheduled Caste seats in Gujarat. The decision to hold the national executive of the ST Morcha in South Gujarat’s Kevadiya Colony near the Statue of Unity.
Not only the national office-bearers of the ST Morcha and most tribal MPs, but MLAs and office-bearers of the BJP Adivasi wings across the country are also expected to attend the meeting, Harshad Vasava, Gujarat BJP’s ST Morcha chairperson, told Vibes of India.
They would be briefed about the various measures and schemes implemented for the Adivasis by various BJP-ruled State Governments as well as the Centre. Since this would be an executive committee meeting, there would be closed-door strategy discussions.
Though the BJP has made inroads in the tribal belt, which used to be a strong Congress bastion, since the mid-90’s, it does not have the grip that the party has on the urban areas.
In the 2017 elections, the BJP managed to win 9 seats out of the 27 seats reserved for the Scheduled Tribes, while Congress bagged 15 and its alliance partner Bharatiya Tribal Party got two and one Independent won. In 2002 polls, the BJP got 13 against 13 of Congress-Janata Dal (U), while the numbers were Congress 14, BJP 11 and one JD-U in 2007 and Congress 16, BJP 10 and one JD-U.
However, between 2017 and 2022, the BJP poached three tribal Congress MLAs, Ashvin Kotwal (Khedbrahma), Jitu Chaudhary (Kaprada in Valsad, who was also made a cabinet minister) and two-time Congress MLA Mangal Gavit from Dangs. Congress’ another strong tribal MLA from North Gujarat and former minister Anil Joshiyara and an Independent MLA from Panchmahals died.
Another adverse news for the Congress is that its alliance partner Bharatiya Tribal Party in the Bharuch district has joined hands with Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has already held a huge rally in Jhagadia on May 1. Though BTP chief Chhotubhai Vasava and his son Mahesh are the only two MLAs of the party, the BTP could be a spoiler for the Congress in quite a few tribal seats in parts of Bharuch and Surat areas in South Gujarat.
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But buoyed by its success in forcing the Centre to put its much-touted Par-Tapi-Narmada riverlink project on the backburner following strong protests by the tribals of South Gujarat led by its MLA Anant Patel, the Congress plans to touch upon real issues facing the tribals not only in Gujarat but across the country.
“Rahul Gandhi’s rally has been named as Satyagrah rally, because it is to highlight the injustice being meted out to the Adivasis and denial of Constitutional rights to them in Gujarat and the country,” Gujarat Congress chief spokesperson Manish Doshi told Vibes of India.
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Leader of Opposition in the State Assembly Sukhram Rathwa, who is also a tribal leader from Central Gujarat, told VOI, “We are mobilising more than one lakh people for the satyagraha rally.”