New Delhi: Tribal communities constituted a significant percentage of the population in three – Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhatisgarh – of the four states that went to the polls in November. Just under a third or 31% of the country’s tribal population is found in these three states.
The Hindu reports that the BJP, which won just 19 of the 76 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribe (ST) candidates in MP and Chhattisgarh in 2018, managed to bag 44 this time.
Chhattisgarh, created along with Jharkhand to give tribal communities more representation, has 29 seats reserved for ST candidates in the 90-member assembly. According to the census conducted in 2011, tribals constitute 30.60% of Chhattisgarh’s population. In 2018, Congress won a majority of tribal seats in Chhattisgarh, leaving the BJP with only four. But this time, the BJP won 17 of the 29 seats.
In 2003, the BJP won as many as 24 of the 33 tribal seats in Chhatisgarh, with Congress winning nine. That was the new state’s first election, and after delimitation, the seats reserved for ST candidates shrank to 29.
In Madhya Pradesh, Adivasis and other tribal groups comprise 21.1% of the population. Of the 230 constituencies, 47 are reserved for ST candidates. In 2018, Congress won 30 of those 47 seats. This time, the dial flipped and the BJP won 27.
In Rajasthan, ST communities constitute 13.5% of the state. In 2018, of the 25 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes in the state, the Congress won 12 and the BJP nine. The Hindu reports that this time around, the BJP managed to add four more ST seats to its tally compared to 2018, “even as new entrant Bharat Adivasi Party capitalised on changing ideas of tribal identity with its ‘alternate politics’, which leaders insisted won it three seats in Rajasthan (Dhariawad, Aspur, and Chorasi) and one in Madhya Pradesh (Sailana).”
The question of the RSS’s reference to tribals as vanvasi (forest dwellers) and not Adivasi (original inhabitants) was made much of in Rahul Gandhi’s speeches, but the difference remained an important plank of the Sangh pitch, which dates back decades. The Hindu reports that in both the Surguja and Bastar belts, where most ST seats are, the “Congress took a beating from the BJP – losing almost all”. It added, “In constituencies like Narayanpur (Bastar), the Congress fell between two stools, as the Baghel administration took positions similar to that by the BJP before, alienating besieged ‘vishwasis’ (believers). Christian tribals were upset with the Congress for not acting on rising attacks against them even as the BJP made it a point to mention religious conversion by missionaries as a campaign issue.”
Then, as reported in The Wire, their material needs could not be met as a priority, as Chhannu Netam, 25, told The Wire, “Adivasis have nothing here. We don’t have roads. There is a school in our village but till 10th standard. We want roads, we want connections under Har Ghar Jal [the Union government’s flagship scheme to provide water pipe connections to every rural household], we should get jobs. Bastar’s Adivasis are where they were.”
Similarly, the BJP added at least 19 ST seats to its tally in Madhya Pradesh this election, with large swathes in the Mahakaushal and Malwa-Nimar regions – like Ghoradongri, Bhainsdehi, Mandla, Alirajpur – shifting from the Congress to the BJP.
The pitch this time for tribals has rested on the election of President Droupadi Murmu, as well as offers for special benefits and “tribal culture”. India Today writes that the “BJP has been on an overdrive to secure the tribal votebank. From the Rani Durgavati Gaurav Yatra in June to pay homage to the 16th century Gond queen Rani Durgavati to renaming a railway station in Indore after Tantya Bhil, a tribal icon from the Bhil community.”
In Rajasthan, the new Bharat Adivasi Party (BAP) candidate Rajkumar Roat won the Chorasi assembly constituency. This was one seat, but the failure to have an understanding or alliance with forces such as this in Rajasthan or in Chhatisgarh and Madhya Pradesh with the Gondwana Ganatantra Party (GGP) may have given the Congress the illusion of allowing it to keep a significant base intact, but it enabled the BJP to pick up seats and as a result, build important talking points in the run-up to the 2024 elections.
As The Wire reported last week, the BJP had left no stone unturned to give the appearance of a firm push for the tribal vote. On November 15, two days before Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh went to polls, Modi announced schemes worth Rs 24,000 crore for tribal welfare on the occasion. The announcement came on the day which the Modi government had earlier declared as ‘Janjatiya Gaurav Diwas’ to mark the birth anniversary of Adivasi freedom fighter Birsa Munda. A week earlier, Modi had also said that the Union government has made a five-fold increase in the budget for tribal welfare, although the increase is proportional to the overall jump in budgetary allocations over the years.
This article was originally published on The Wire.