New Delhi: With Congress eyeing the tribal votebank ahead of the crucial Madhya Pradesh elections next year, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is in power in the state, has strengthened its outreach programmes for the community. The latest of these efforts is the Janjatiya Gaurav Yatra, launched by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
Congress outreach in MP is being spearheaded by the Rahul Gandhi-led Bharat Jodo Yatra, which focussed on the Malwa-Nimar region that accounts for 66 of the 230 assembly seats in the state.
According to the 2011 census, MP has the highest number of tribals in India — about 21.5 per cent of the state’s population, with 47 assembly seats reserved for them.
The BJP won 16 of these 47 seats in 2018, as against 31 in the previous polls in 2013. The party is battling anti-incumbency after being in power, in a nearly unbroken streak, in the state since 2003.
In addition to the reserved seats, there are 37 more assembly seats that are dominated by the tribal community and can play a decisive role in determining the fate of the political parties in the state.
The BJP’s aggressive push is also fuelled by tribal rights organisation Jai Adivasi Yuva Sangathan’s (JAYS’s) plans. JAYS is aiming to field candidates in the state and garner the support of the ST community especially on seats that are reserved for the community.
The issue of JAYS making inroads in tribal areas had also come up for discussion at a closed-door meeting of the BJP in Madhya Pradesh in October.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — the BJP’s ideological fountainhead — has also been stressing on a more comprehensive outreach towards the ST communities to address anti-incumbency.
The BJP had emerged as the second-largest party in the 2018 state elections. It managed to form government in March 2020 after Jyotiraditya Scindia, now a Union minister, defected to the BJP with 22 Congress MLAs.
The party has held power in Madhya Pradesh since 2003, barring the period between 2018 and 2020 when Congress’ Kamal Nath was CM. However, sources in BJP said that a large section of the SC and ST communities have still not extended their support to the BJP.
BJP’s ‘aggressive’ outreach
According to a party source, the BJP has also stepped up its outreach programmes both at the party and at the government level. It will aggressively highlight the implementation of the new rules of the Panchayat (Extensions to Scheduled Areas) (PESA) Act through PESA awareness conventions.
The PESA Act came into play in 1996 to ensure self-governance through gram sabhas for those living in Scheduled Areas, areas with high tribal populations. It recognises tribal systems of self-governance through gram sabhas in 89 tribal blocks of the state, covering 2,350 villages in 5,212 panchayats.
It was officially implemented in the state this year on 15 November, the birth anniversary of tribal freedom fighter Birsa Munda, at the ‘Janjatiya Gaurav Diwas’ (Tribal Pride Day) event in Shahdol in the presence of President Droupadi Murmu.
Janjatiya Gaurav Diwas was founded last year by the Union government as part of the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav celebrations.
The PESA Act, a BJP functionary said, is aimed at preventing the exploitation of the tribal population, with the active involvement of the village councils or gram sabhas.
The Act also aims at letting the gram panchayats decide on matters that are related to minor forest produce, land, and small water bodies apart from implementation of government schemes.
“In the past few days itself, Chouhan has visited a number of tribal areas and has interacted with the people. He has been discussing the benefits of the PESA Act and how the BJP government has taken measures to benefit the ST community,” said another leader.
Battle of the yatras
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi visited Baroda Ahir village, the birthplace of tribal icon and revolutionary Tantya Bhil in Pandhana tehsil in Khandwa district on 24 November.
The former Congress president also pitched for the restoration of the rights of tribals and paid tribute to Tantya Bhil at a rally in the village. He also criticised the BJP for its “disrespect” towards tribals and claimed that it had “weakened” the PESA Act which was brought about by the Congress.
The BJP while maintaining that the Bharat Jodo Yatra will not have any impact in the state, announced its own yatra — the Janjatiya Gaurav Yatra.
“A day before Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Baroda Ahir, CM Chouhan visited the village and flagged off the Janjatiya Gaurav Yatra, an outreach programme by the BJP,” said a senior BJP leader, not wanting to be named.
The rally will conclude on 4 December at Patalpani in Indore, where Tantya Bhil was killed while fighting against the British.
The above quoted leader claimed that the Congress has been “anti-tribal” and their policies reflect that. “We can’t give any opportunity to the Congress to create fear among the community with regard to the PESA Act implementation. We are merely highlighting the welfare measures announced by the BJP government.”
In April, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had handed over bonuses to collectors of forest produce like tendu patta (leaves) at a ‘Van Samiti Sammelan’ in Bhopal.
Tendu patta is one of the major sources of livelihood for the community in the state.
Shah also announced the change in status of 827 ‘forest villages’ into ‘revenue villages’.
At the party level, BJP has been trying to induct more tribal leaders in the party.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited Madhya Pradesh to participate in last year’s Janjatiya Gaurav Diwas Mahasammelan where he virtually laid the foundation stone of 50 Eklavya Model Residential Schools across the country.
He is also set to inaugurate the state’s first tribal village in Khajuraho at the Global Investors’ Summit, being organised in MP in January 2023.
(Edited by Theres Sudeep)