Congress, AAP Woo Chhotubhai Vasava As Riverlinking Project Becomes Thorn in BJP Flesh; Narendra Modi Coming

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Congress, AAP Woo Chhotubhai Vasava As Riverlinking Project Becomes Thorn in BJP Flesh; Narendra Modi Coming

| Updated: March 28, 2022 22:25

With the much-touted Par-Tapi-Narmada riverlink project becoming a thorn in the flesh for the ruling BJP in Gujarat trying to capture the tribal belt, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is visiting tribal-dominated Dharampur in South Gujarat’s Valsad district on April 15, while new political equations are being discussed for 27 seats reserved for the Scheduled Tribes.  
The key opposition Congress, which started losing its tribal base ever since 2002 or in fact much earlier, has seized the opportunity to convert to its advantage the pitched tribal agitation against the South Gujarat-based riverlink project that aims to transfer surplus river waters to water-starved Saurashtra-Kutch region.
The story, in fact, starts here. Emboldened by its Punjab success, new entrant Aam Aadmi Party, has already begun efforts to tap the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) controlled by veteran legislator Chhotubhai Vasava and his son Maheshbhai Vasava, which largely has a presence in Adivasi areas of Bharuch district, but has been spoiler for the Congress in several South Gujarat seats. Vasava’s son Maheshbhai, also an MLA, told Vibes of India that, “If AAP wants an alliance with us, let Arvind Kejriwal talk to us.”
Chhotubhai Vasava, who was once the face of Janata Dal (United) and leads the BTP now, has had an alliance with the AIMIM since the local body elections in the State in February last year.
The veteran leader had pulled out support to the Congress after the latter tied up with the BJP in a local panchayat election in Rajasthan, where the BTP could have formed the government in 2020. Simultaneously, the BTP had withdrawn support to the Congress in Bharuch district panchayat in protest against this.  
The Adivasi belt has become a vortex of the latest political slugfest with the Congress seeing an opportunity and new entrants trying out alliances, while a bewildered BJP is wondering how to check the anti-incumbency in the tribal belt. As reported by Vibes of India earlier, the BJP itself is worried more about the adverse electoral effects of the Par-Tapi-Narmada riverlink project that threatens to displace hundreds of tribal families. And the ruling party is caught between the proverbial devil and deep blue sea situation.
The scheme was announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her budget speech for 2022-23, while it was also ratified by the ruling BJP in its ongoing budget session with an allocation of Rs 500 crore and an immediate allotment of Rs 94 crore for pre-feasibility studies.   
It was on March 3 that BJP leaders, including MLAs, from South Gujarat had represented to Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel and State BJP chief CR Paatil to halt the river-linking project, lest it affected their electoral prospects in the elections this year.
And when nothing works in Gujarat for the BJP, Narendra Modi does, and that explains his proposed rally in Dharampur in South Gujarat’s tribal-dominated Valsad district, where the Par-Tapi-Narmada project originates. This, when the chief minister and the BJP chief have promised the South Gujarat leaders that they would have the riverlink project stopped.
So, the latest political struggle in Gujarat in an election year is for the 15% (or 27 seats) Adivasi seats and 30% seats where the tribal vote is dominant though they may not be reserved seats.
It is in this context that Chhotubhai Vasava becomes significant. Vasava’s single vote saw Congress veteran, the late Ahmed Patel, through the hard-fought Rajya Sabha elections, in 2017 where the entire lot of the BJP and a huge section of the Congress party wanted him lost. But Vasava was nursing the hurt that he was not given his due in return during the December 2017 assembly elections and later in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in terms of number of seats to contest.

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