Of the total 182 assembly seats, 13 are reserved for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and 27 for Scheduled Tribes (STs), who are also called Adivasis. There are 13 other seats which get influenced by tribal votes. Both the BJP and the Congress are making all out efforts to woo the Adivasis.
In the 2017 assembly election, the BJP retained office by winning 99 seats while the Congress bagged 77 seats.
The Congress had a decisive edge over the BJP on the ST reserved seats. It won 15 seats while the BJP was victorious on 9. The Congress’s ally Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) bagged 2 seats while an independent candidate won the remaining seat.
In other words, the BJP won only one-third of the seats reserved for STs. However, the Congress suffered a jolt with three of its Adivasi MLAs – Ashvin Kotwal, Jitu Chaudhary and Mangal Gavit – joining the BJP in the last five years.
Another Congress MLA Anil Joshiyara and the independent MLA from Panchmahals died during this period.
The BJP is also facing its share of worries. The Adivasis in South Gujarat tribal regions along the Tapi and Narmada rivers have opposed the Centre’s Par-Tapi-Narmada river-linking project.
Led by MLA Anant Patel, the Congress organised five massive protests in the region. The Bhupendra Patel government assured the protesters that it would speak with the Centre to put the project on hold.
The Congress has also stepped on the gas to maintain or even improve its performance in the tribal seats spread over north, central and south Gujarat.
Both the parties are recounting their close association with the tribal people and the work they have done for them.
It is clear from their action that both the BJP and the Congress are according top priority to tribal votes.
The importance the BJP attaches to tribal votes could be gauged from the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched his election rally on November 6 from the ST reserved seat of Kaprada in Valsad.
Speaking at the rally, Modi expressed gratitude to the Gujarat BJP. The reason, he said, was that after the declaration of the poll schedule by the Election Commission on November 3, his first campaign programme was kept in the tribal seat.
Modi said, “I am happy about it. For me A stands for Adivasi. My ABCD starts with A for Adivasi. I am fortunate to start my first rally of this election by seeking the blessings of Adivasi brothers and sisters.”
Mentioning the works accomplished for the tribal people by the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre, the PM said, “From Umargram to Ambaji, in the whole Adivasi belt, several science colleges, professional education colleges, five medical colleges, ITI, Govind Guru and Bhagwan Birsa Munda universities, hospitals, multi-speciality hospitals and veterinary hospitals have been opened. Such a major change has been brought about in the Adivasi belt.”
Modi said earlier, power used to be supplied for just six hours. Now, electricity supply is there for 24 hours. Boys and girls can study for longer hours. The water scarcity issue has also been ameliorated. Arrangements are being made to supply water through taps in households, he added.
The PM said Gujarat was moving on the path of progress. People from Gujarat were earning fame throughout the world. “People will not accept those who spread hatred, who defame Gujarat, belittle Gujarat because the Gujarati people made the state what it is today. They have toiled day and night to build Gujarat. The people and Adivasis of Gujarat will not allow any harm to be done to the state. Gujarat is progressing under the leadership of the Adivasis,” the PM said.
ગુજરાતની દીકરીઓ ગુજરાતનું નામ ઉજ્જવળ કરી રહી છે.આદિવાસી વિસ્તારમાં પણ ખૂબ વિકાસ થયો છે…. https://t.co/qpywO8sHn3
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) 1667748403000
Last week, PM Modi addressed eight rallies in two days in the Saurashtra region which included several in tribal seats.
On November 23, he was back in the tribal district of Dahod. He reiterated that in Droupadi Murmu, the BJP had appointed an Adivasi for the first time as the country’s president.
“Why did the Congress not do this? Now they are having stomach aches,” Modi said.
Giving a personal touch to his association with the people of Dahod, Modi said, “A PM knows the names of all lanes and bylanes in Dahod. I have personal relations with Dahod.”
Union home minister Amit Shah flagged off the fourth and fifth segments of Gujarat Gaurav yatra from Unai in Navsari district.
The fourth segment of the yatra was called the Birsa Munda Tribal Yatra which passed through 14 tribal districts of the state covering 31 assembly constituencies. The yatra concluded at the temple town Ambaji in North Gujarat.
Another yatra, which also began from Unai, concluded at Fagvel in Kheda district after covering 35 assembly constituencies.
Addressing the people in the presence of Union tribal affairs minister Arjun Munda, Shah reaffirmed the BJP government’s commitment towards the welfare of tribal people.
He reiterated that it was the BJP government which started a separate tribal ministry at the Centre. Among other accomplishments, he said Modi had launched Van Bandhu Kalyan Yojana which was largely benefitting tribal families in the state. He said the BJP government had provided irrigation facilities to 11 lakh hectares of tribal land in the state.
“During Covid 19 epidemic, PM Modi ensured free rations to the poor, especially the tribal families of the country. It is the BJP government in the state which has provided connectivity to 98 per cent of the tribal region,” Shah said.
Though the Congress was accused of maintaining a low profile, it remained active on tribal issues.
Party MP Rahul Gandhi addressed the Adivasi Satyagraha Rally in Dahod on May 10. He said, “You made Gujarat, its infrastructure and roads but what did you get? You did not get anything. You did not get education, health, employment or anything else. That is why we have launched this agitation. We want to create an infrastructure for education and health in Gujarat. The BJP government will not give you these. You all will have to fight and take them from it.”
Similar to Modi, Rahul too attached importance to tribal voters. As he is undertaking the 3,500-km Bharat Jodo Yatra, which started on September 7 from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, he did not campaign even for a single day in Himachal Pradesh where voting took place for 68 seats on November 12.
Rahul has left the yatra once on October 26. It was to remain present in Delhi on the formal takeover of Mallikarjun Kharge as Congress president.
The second occasion when he left the yatra was on November 21 and it was to address two election rallies in Gujarat – in Surat and Rajkot in the Saurashtra region.
In Surat, he spoke at length on tribal issues to woo ST voters. He said the country belonged to the tribal people who should get rights, employment, health facilities and education.
Narrating a personal anecdote, the Congress leader said his family had a deep association with Adivasis. “I was a small boy of six-seven years. My grandmother (former prime minister) Indira ji gave a book to me. That was my most favourite book. It was a pictorial book. The name of the book was ‘Tendu, ek adivasi bachcha (Tendu, an adivasi child)’.
I asked my grandmother what she thought about the book. She said it was about Adivasis who are the first and real owners of India. If you want to understand India, you should learn about Adivasis, their life and their association with ‘jal, jangal, zameen (water, forest and land),” he said.
The Wayanad MP said Indira used the Adivasi word. “Adivasi means those who lived here the earliest. This country has been taken away from you,” he said.
Hitting out at the BJP, Rahul said there was another ideology. “BJP leaders do not call you Adivasi. They call you Vanvasi. They do not say that you are the first owner of India but they say that you live in the forest. They do not want you to live in the cities and your children to become engineers, doctors, pilots and speak English. Further, they start snatching away forest from you. If this continues, all forests will be with their two-three industrialist friends and you will not have any place to live and you will not get education, health facilities and employment,” he said
ये देश आदिवासियों का है और इस देश में आपको हक मिलने चाहिए, आपको रोज़गार मिलने चाहिए, आपके बच्चों को स्वास्थ्य और शि… https://t.co/jn2ppIkNG1
— Congress (@INCIndia) 1669034400000
The former Congress president said the UPA government had brought the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) and the Forest Rights Act to protect the Adivasi. He alleged that the BJP government did not allow these to be implemented.
“We gave you MGNREGA, employment and scholarships to children. But they (BJP) did not give you. Worse, they only snatch land from you. You have to decide. On the one side there is Congress (which stands for the rights of) Adivasis, your land, education, health and employment. On the other side is the BJP (which stands for) vanvasi, sorrow and shattered dreams.”
He said the Congress wanted the history of the Adivasis and their way of life to be protected.
Election in Gujarat will be held in two phases – on December 1 and December 5. Counting of votes will take place on December 8.