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Every political party wants Gujarat tribal belt pie. here’s why

The only time tribes take center stage in Gujarat is during elections. This is the only time when all political parties make eloquent public speeches about the rights of indigenous peoples and the importance of their voices. Tribal freedom fighters Birsa Munda and Govind Guru are invoked and political decisions favorable to the tribes are made.

Deepal Trivedi and Janvi Sonaiya from Vibes of India did a detailed analysis to dissect the history and pattern of tribal votes, the relevance of tribals as a solid vote share and the type of strategies that the BJP, AAP and the Congress float to woo the tribals of Gujarat.

Here are excerpts from the video interaction:

On the Tribal People of Gujarat

No political party can ignore the tribal vote share in Gujarat as out of a total of 182 seats, the state has 27 reserved for ST, making a total population of 14.8%. There are 47 assembly seats in Gujarat where ST population is above 10%. In 40 assembly seats, there are more than 20% ST population. Thirty-one assembly seats have over 30 percent population ST. There are 11 major tribes in Gujarat; the largest Bhil, constitutes 47.89% of the state’s tribal population.

27 tribal 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 (Surah), Vyara (Tapi), Nijhar (Tapi), Dang, Mangrol (Surah), Mandvi (Surah), Gandevi (Navsari), Vansda (Navsari), Dharampur (Valsad), Kaprada (Valsad) and Umargam (Valsad).

Congress in tribal belt

The tribes have been the stronghold of Congress for a very long time. In 1985, the Congress obtained over 63% of the tribal votes in Gujarat. This was a watershed moment for the Congress as it is the highest tribal vote share the party has ever achieved in Gujarat.

This happened for two main reasons: Traditionally, the tribals voted for the Congress due to the high popularity of Indira Gandhi among the tribal people of Gujarat. Secondly, there was the KHAM of former Chief Minister of Gujarat, Madhavsinh Solanki, Koli Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim.

Eventually these two aspects began to fade and its outcome was evident in the 1990 Gujarat elections when the tribal votes in Congress fell from a whopping 63% to a meager 36%. The tribal vote share of the Congress in Gujarat started to decline after that.

In 1998, Congress realized that if it had focused on its main vote bank, namely the tribal belt, the BJP would not have succeeded in securing a stronghold in Gujarat. (The BJP came to power in 1995). In 1998, tribals began voting for Congress again. In the last assembly elections i.e. 2017 – out of 27 tribal seats – the Congress won 11, the BJP won nine seats and the Bharatiya Tribal Party led by tribal leader Chhotubhai Vasana won. got two seats.

Mohansinh Rathwa quits Congress

Meanwhile, another blow to Congress comes as Mohansinh Rathwa, a prominent tribal leader, former minister and opposition leader in Gujarat, resigned from the party to join the BJP.

Differences with Congress over the dismissal of his son from the Chhota Udepur Assembly seat, which he currently holds, apparently led to the veteran MP’s abrupt resignation. Mr Rathwa, a party MP for nine terms, lost only once in Assembly polls in 2002.

On the demands of the tribal people

The fundamental issues of the tribal people have always been around their land and water. Their lands are being encroached on in the name of development and infrastructure – whether it’s building Congress roadblocks or building BJP statues – it’s always been the tribals who have been the victims.

The late implementation of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution and the Panchayat PESA Act in the tribal areas of Gujarat is another issue of concern to the tribals.

Tribals were protesting the Par Tapi Narmada River Link project and before Congress could make it an election issue, the BJP scrapped the Rs 500 crore development project – just to woo their tribal vote share. This reflects the foresight of the BJP to nip the problem in its bud.

On BJP trying to woo tribals

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP secured a whopping 52% tribal vote share, which gave the party confidence to strengthen its grip on the tribal belt. The surprising result in 2019 inspired the BJP to win over 140 seats in the upcoming elections in Gujarat.

The BJP’s decision to make Draupadi Murmu the President of India went down really well with the Gujarat tribals. They are delighted that someone from their clan has reached this prestigious position.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself visited the tribal areas of Gujarat and called on people to become partners in the state’s development journey. On October 21, Prime Minister Modi visited Tapi to inaugurate various projects in the tribal belt. He said: “These Congressional governments never cared about your bright future, they only thought about the election…make false promises before the election, then forget about it. On the other hand, for the BJP government, the welfare of the adivasi brothers is a priority.

Gaurav Yatras in the tribal belt

The BJP launched Gaurav Yatra to reach out to the tribal people of Gujarat. It is a strategic decision to cover the tribal circuit. In more than 10 days, the BJP covers 144 of the 182 assembly constituencies, spanning 5,734 km and holds 145 public meetings. The five routes include Bechraji in Mehsana district to Mata to Madhh in Kutch district; Dwarka in Porbandar; Zanzaraka in Ahmedabad district in Somnath of Gir-Somnath district; Unai in Navsari district of South Gujarat to Fagvel in Kheda district of Central Gujarat; and Unai in Ambaji in northern Gujarat. Here, BJP wants to emphasize that they will stand up for the tribes of Gujarat and raise their voices.

The development projects of the then chief minister, Narendra Modi, are also important. PM started skills development programs for the tribes and young tribal girls received educational assistance. The government has provided scholarships for the training of adivasi flight attendants. These are innovative moves taken by CM Modi during his rule in the state.

Congress for Tribals

Congress is seen as a party that stands with its tribal, marginalized communities and people on the margins of society. Tribes have always felt they did not have their rightful place as equal stakeholders in the state, at least for the past two decades.

The Congress has a stronghold in the tribal belt, but in the past five years they have lost four of their top tribal leaders – one to Covid and three joined the BJP. Between 2017 and 2022, the BJP poached three key Adivasi Congress MPs – Ashvin Kotwal (Khedbrahma in North Gujarat), Jitu Chaudhary (Kaprada in Valsad in South Gujarat, who was also appointed Cabinet Minister) and the two-time congressman Mangal Gavit from Dangs in the south. They were all influential and local leaders.

Alliance of Aam Aadmi Party and BTP

The Aam Aadmi Party in Gujarat has started well by concentrating on 50 urban seats and 27 tribal seats in Gujarat. But the much-publicized alliance between the AAP and the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) broke down in September 2022 – after a mutual disagreement between party leaders over the AAP which aligned BTP rebel Praful Vasava of Nandod, Narmada.

At present, the AAP is unlikely to win tribal seats, but it could hurt congressional seats, which will indirectly help the BJP.

Watch the video to learn more: