The only time tribals take centre stage in Gujarat is during elections. This is the only time when all political parties make eloquent public discourses about the rights of tribal people and how much their voices matter. Tribal freedom fighters Birsa Munda and Govind Guru are invoked and tribal-friendly political decisions are made.
Vibes of India’s Deepal Trivedi and Janvi Sonaiya did a detailed analysis to dissect the history and pattern of tribal votes, the relevance of tribals as a solid vote share and the kind of strategies BJP, AAP and Congress are floating to woo the tribals of Gujarat.
Here are excerpts from the video interaction:
On Tribal population in Gujarat
No political party can ignore the tribal vote share in Gujarat as out of total 182 seats the State has 27 reserved for ST– a total population of 14.8%. There are 47 assembly seats in Gujarat where the ST population is more than 10 per cent. In 40 assembly seats, there is more than 20 per cent ST population. Thirty-one assembly seats have more than 30 per cent ST population. There are 11 major tribes in Gujarat; the largest Bhil, constitutes 47.89% of the state’s tribal population.
27 tribals seats in Gujarat
The 27 tribal seats of Gujarat include Danta (Banaskantha), Khedbrahma (Sabarkantha), Bhiloda (Aravalli), Santrampur (Mahisagar), Morva Hadaf (Panchmahal), Fatepura (Dahod), Jhalod (Dahod), Limkheda (Dahod), Garbada (Dahod), Chhota Udepur, Jetpur (Chhota Udepur), Sankheda (Chhota Udepur), Nandod (Narmada), Dediapada (Narmada), Jhagadia (Bharuch), Mahuva (Surat), Vyara (Tapi), Nijhar (Tapi), Dang, Mangrol (Surat), Mandvi (Surat), Gandevi (Navsari), Vansda (Navsari), Dharampur (Valsad), Kaprada (Valsad) and Umargam (Valsad).
Congress In Tribal Belt
Tribals have been the stronghold of Congress for the longest time. In 1985 Congress secured more than 63% of tribal votes in Gujarat. It was a watershed moment for Congress as it is the highest tribal vote share the party has ever scored in Gujarat.
This happened due to two major reasons: Traditionally tribals voted for Congress because of Indira Gandhi’s vast popularity amongst the tribal population of Gujarat. Second, was former Gujarat Chief Minister Madhavsinh Solanki’s KHAM– Koli Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim.
Eventually, both these aspects started fading and its result was evident in Gujarat elections in 1990 when Congress’ tribal votes fell from a whopping 63% to meagre 36%. Congress’ tribal vote share in Gujarat started waning after this.
In 1998, Congress realised that had they focused on their core vote bank i.e. tribal belt, BJP would not have succeeded in securing a stronghold in Gujarat. (BJP came to power in 1995). In 1998, tribals once again began voting for Congress. In the last assembly elections i.e. in 2017–out of 27 tribal seats–Congress got 11, BJP secured nine seats and Bharatiya Tribal Party led by tribal leader Chhotubhai Vasana secured two seats.
Mohansinh Rathwa Leaves Congress
Meanwhile, another big blow to Congress comes as Mohansinh Rathwa, prominent tribal leader, former Minister and Leader of the Opposition in Gujarat resigned from the party to join the BJP.
Differences with the Congress regarding fielding his son from the Chhota Udepur Assembly seat, which is presently held by him, has apparently led to the veteran MLA’s abrupt resignation. Mr. Rathwa, a nine-term MLA of the party, has lost only once in Assembly polls in 2002.
On demands of Tribal population
Basic issues of tribal population have always been around their land and water. Their land is encroached upon in the name of development and infrastructure–be it Congress building dams or BJP building statues–it’s always the tribals who have been at the receiving end.
Tardy Implementation of the Constitution’s Fifth Schedule and the Panchayat PESA Act in the tribal regions of Gujarat–is another issue that concerns tribals.
Tribals were protesting against the Par Tapi Narmada river-linking project and before Congress could make it an election issue, BJP scrapped the Rs 500 crore developmental project–just to woo their tribal vote share. This reflects BJP’s farsightedness to nip the issue in its bud.
On BJP trying to woo tribals
In 2019 Lok Sabha Elections BJP secured a whopping 52% tribal vote share and this gave confidence to the party to strengthen its hold in the tribal belt. The surprising result of 2019, inspired BJP to win more than 140 seats in the forthcoming Gujarat elections.
BJP’s decision to make Droupadi Murmu India’s president has really gone well with the tribals in Gujarat. They are elated that someone from their clan has reached this prestigious position.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has himself gone to the tribal areas of Gujarat and appealed to people to become partners in the development journey of the State. On Oct 21, PM Modi visited Tapi to inaugurate various projects in the tribal belt. He said, “These Congress governments were never concerned about your bright future, their mind was only on the elections… make false promises before the elections, then forget about it. On other hand, for the BJP government, the welfare of the adivasi brothers is a priority.”
Gaurav Yatras in Tribal belt
BJP has initiated Gaurav Yatra to reach out to the tribal population of Gujarat.it is a strategic move to cover the tribal circuit. In over 10 days, the BJP is covering 144 of the total 182 Assembly constituencies, spanning 5,734 km, and holding 145 public meetings. The five routes include Bechraji in Mehsana district to Mata to Madhh in Kutch district; Dwarka to Porbandar; Zanzaraka in Ahmedabad district to Somnath of Gir-Somnath district; Unai in Navsari district of South Gujarat to Fagvel in Kheda district of Central Gujarat; and Unai to Ambaji in North Gujarat. Here, BJP wants to emphasise that they will stand for the tribals of Gujarat and raise their voices.
Development projects of then Chief Minister Narendra Modi are also substantial. PM initiated skill development programmes for tribals and young tribal girls were given assistance with education. The government gave scholarships for the training of adivasi air hostesses. These were pathbreaking initiatives taken by CM Modi during his regime in the State.
Congress For Tribals
Congress is viewed as a party which stands by its tribals, marginalised communities and people who are on the edges of society. Tribals have always felt they did not get their rightful place as equal stakeholders in the State–at least in the past two decades.
Congress has a stronghold in the tribal belt but in the last five years they have lost four of their major tribal leaders–one due to Covid and three joined BJP. Between 2017 and 2022, BJP poached three key Adivasi Congress MLAs — Ashvin Kotwal (Khedbrahma in North Gujarat), Jitu Chaudhary (Kaprada in South Gujarat’s Valsad, who was also made a cabinet minister) and two-time Congress MLA Mangal Gavit from Dangs in the south. They were all influential and local leaders.
Aam Aadmi Party & BTP’s alliance
The Aam Aadmi Party in Gujarat started well by focusing on 50 urban seats and 27 tribal seats in Gujarat. But the much-hyped alliance between AAP and Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) snapped off in September 2022 –after a mutual disagreement between the party leaders on AAP fielding BTP rebel Praful Vasava from Nandod, Narmada.
As of now, it is unlikely for AAP to win any tribal seats but may dent Congress’ seats–which will indirectly help BJP.
Watch the video to know more: