Home Politics In Modi visit to ‘Adivasi Jallianwala’, a big BJP push to woo...

In Modi visit to ‘Adivasi Jallianwala’, a big BJP push to woo tribals in Gujarat, MP & Rajasthan

At Mangarh Dham near Rajasthan-Gujarat border Tuesday, PM Modi paid tributes to tribal people killed by British in 1913. BJP hopes event will bolster its chances in three states.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing a gathering in Banswara, Rajasthan | ANI
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing a gathering in Banswara, Rajasthan | ANI

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Mangarh Dham in Rajasthan — a place revered by tribal people across the country — is being viewed as a major tribal outreach programme by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of assembly elections in Gujarat this year, as well as in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh next year.

On Tuesday, Modi paid tributes to 1,500 people of the Bhil tribe who were massacred by the British Army in the Mangarh Hills on 17 November 1913. This tragedy — which took place six years before the Jallianwala Bagh massacre— is sometimes referred to as the “Adivasi Jallianwala”.

The Mangarh Dham, a memorial to the slain, is located in Banswara district, on the Rajasthan-Gujarat border, a region with a large tribal population.

“India’s past, present, and future would not be complete without the tribal community. Every page of our freedom struggle, the pages of history, is full of tribal valour,” Modi said. He added that today, the country was rectifying the “decades-old-mistake” of tribal people not getting their rightful place in history. The PM was speaking at Mangarh Dham ki Guarav Gatha, an event organised by the Union culture ministry.

“It is inspiring for all of us to come to Mangarh Dham as part of ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’. Mangarh Dham is a reflection of the tenacity, sacrifice, penance, and patriotism of the tribal heroes. This is the common heritage of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra,” the PM said.

Bhupendra Patel, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, and Ashok Gehlot — the chief ministers of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajashtan respectively — were among the attendees.

All three states have significant tribal populations, and the BJP hopes this will help bolster its chances with them, according to party leaders ThePrint spoke to.

Also Read: ‘Moditva’, wooing tribals, scarce mention of CM: What BJP strategy in Gujarat yatra was all about

‘Tribals didn’t get their rightful place in history’ 

In his speech Tuesday, Modi lauded the role of tribal people in India’s freedom struggle, and said their struggle and sacrifice hadn’t got its rightful place in post-Independence history.

The prime minister also spoke about Birsa Munda — a 19th-century freedom fighter from the Munda tribe — saying that he had ignited the flame of freedom among lakhs of tribal people.

“You will not find any patch of time — starting from the beginning of slavery centuries ago, till the 20th century — when the flame of azadi wasn’t kept ablaze by the tribal community,” Modi said.

“Great freedom fighters like [Bhil social reformer] Govind Guru were the representatives of India’s tradition and ideals,” he said. In 1913, Govind Guru had led a gathering of tribal people and forest dwellers against the British Raj, in the confrontation that culminated in the Mangarh massacre.

Modi also mentioned Alluri Sitarama Raju, a 19th-century revolutionary from present-day Andhra Pradesh who rallied tribal people against the Madras Forest Act of 1882.

Even before these events, the Adivasis of Rajasthan had stood with the 16th-century king Maharana Pratap, the PM said in his speech.

“We are indebted to the tribal community and their sacrifice. This samaj (community) has preserved India’s character in nature, environment, culture, and traditions. Today is the time for the nation to thank them by serving them,” Modi said in his speech.

Also speaking at the event, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said Modi was respected internationally because he came from “the country of Gandhi”.

“When PM Modi goes abroad, he receives great honour and respect. Why does he get respect? That’s because Modi is the prime minister of a country that is the country of Gandhi, [whose] roots of democracy are deeper and [where], even after 70 years, democracy is alive,” Gehlot said. “When the world realises this, they feel proud that the PM of that country is coming to them”.

Meanwhile, Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel termed the Mangarh massacre “more gruesome” than the Jallianwala Bagh in Punjab.

Eyeing tribal seats

BJP leaders expect Modi’s visit to have a significant impact on poll-bound Gujarat, as well as the states of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

A senior BJP leader from Rajasthan told ThePrint that the party had worked to ensure the presence of around one lakh tribal people from the three states at the event.

“[The] PM also addressed a gathering of Bhil Adivasis and members of other tribes of the region. This is our Adivasi mission; the party and the government have done a lot for the community, and we need to create greater awareness about it,” the leader said, adding “It was the BJP that nominated Droupadi Murmu ji, who’s the President of India now.

Rajasthan BJP chief Satish Poonia and many other senior leaders of the party had taken stock of the preparations, according to sources in the BJP. A delegation of Rajasthan leaders also met BJP president J.P. Nadda to brief him about the preparations, they added.

Another senior party leader said the PM’s visit to Mangarh Dham was likely to bolster the BJP’s chances in tribal-dominated areas in all three states.

“PM Modi’s presence is always beneficial to the BJP. The fact that he visited Mangarh Dham, which shares its border with Gujarat, is also a moment of pride for us as it’s the BJP government that has worked for the welfare of the tribal communities,” said Gujarat BJP spokesperson Yamal Vyas.

“Mangarh Dham is known for the massacre of Adivasi Bhils in 1913 by the British Army. They are the unsung heroes of tribals and the BJP has always recognised their contributions. The fact that the PM came here shows the regard he has for the ST community,” a third senior BJP leader told ThePrint.

“This is going to be a major outreach programme and keeping the population in mind, such programmes will help connect better with tribal society and we can reap electoral benefits too,” he added.

In Gujarat, which will go to the polls at the end of this year, about 15 per cent of the total population is tribal, according to the 2011 census. There are sizeable tribal populations in Banaskantha, Ambaji, Dahod, Panchmahal, Chhota Udaipur, and Narmada districts.

At 21.5 per cent and 14 per cent respectively, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, which are to go to the polls in November-December 2023 — months ahead of the 2024 General Election — also have significant tribal populations.

There are 99 seats reserved for the Scheduled Tribes in the three states — 25 in Rajasthan, 27 in Gujarat, and 47 in Madhya Pradesh. It’s these seats the BJP is now eyeing.

In Rajasthan, 33 of 200 current MLAs are from tribal communities (apart from the 25 reserved seats, tribal MLAs hold eight additional seats). Out of the 33 MLAs, nine belong to the BJP and 17 to the Congress.

In Madhya Pradesh — which has the highest tribal population in the country — out of the 47 seats reserved for tribal candidates, the BJP won two-thirds in 2013.

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

Also Read: Former Modi critic turned V-P of Gujarat BJP — who is Gordhan Zadafia, man behind Gaurav Yatra