WITH VETERAN Congress leader Jamuna Devi gearing up to hold tribal conventions across the State in reply to the tribal panchayat organised at the Chief Minister’s residence, problems of the most oppressed community in the State are expected to come in sharper focus in the coming days.
If the 48 announcements the Chief Minister made in the tribal conclave on Saturday form the BJP agenda, the Congress will highlight the UPA Government’s twin revolutionary achievements in favour of the tribals- the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the passage of the Tribal Rights Bill, 2006.
As far as the tribals’ most pressing demand in MP - legalisation of their possession on forest land- is concerned, neither the Congress nor the BJP can do any thing about it for now, as the bill seeking amendments in the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 is awaiting Presidential assent. However, both parties are keen to capitalise on the legislation to woo the tribals. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan dropped enough indication to this effect in the tribal meet.
He assured the meet that as soon as the bill becomes law, a campaign would be launched in the State to convert forest villages into revenue villages. This, would pave the way for regularisation of tribals’ ‘ encroachment ’ on forest land. The Chief Minister specially mentioned the AB Vajpayee-led NDA Government’s initiative for piloting the amendments in the Forest Conservation Act.
Jamuna Devi, on the other hand, says the Chief Minister was compelled to announce a campaign for legalisation of tribals’ possession on forest land as Parliament has already passed the relevant bill. About the Chief Minister’s other announcements, Leader of Opposition said some of them were schemes under implementation from the Congress Government’s time. Gimmicks like Adivasi Panchayat were not going to help the BJP, she claimed.
However, the BJP appears quite confident about efficacy of such gatherings to impress various social groupings about the Government’s intentions.
It is true some of the announcements were old and in fact, ongoing schemes but in the tribal gathering they evoked good applause. Therein lies political significance of such congregations. Shivraj Singh Chouhan had already savoured sweetness of such gatherings held for farmers and women in the recent past.
According to BJP sources the Chief Minister wanted to send the message that he saw tribals as different from Scheduled Castes unlike former Chief Minister Digvijay Singh who clubbed both to launch his Dalit Agenda.
The Congress seems to have also taken the message. Jamuna Devi has embarked upon preparations for a grand tribal meet for which she has already sought party president Sonia Gandhi’s consent. Date and venue of the proposed meet are, however, yet to be decided. Proposals are coming from various tribal districts for grand meet, Jamuna Devi said.
Saturday’s meet at the Chief Minister’s house was significant for two reasons - one, Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s assertion to get forest villages converted into revenue ones and, two, it was a very subdued step on religious conversion.
Together the two issues suggest what is really important for tribals in Madhya Pradesh.
Tribals need better education, health and housing facilities besides assurance of possession on the land they have occupied. Conversion does not seem to be a big issue at the moment. The tribal panchayat also underlines BJP’s concern to hold on to the tribal vote bank, having swept 38 Scheduled Tribe (reserved) seats in the 2003 assembly elections.
The real impact of the meet and announcements made in it could be possible only after the Congress starts its own meetings. State’s schemes will be pitted against the UPA Government’s achievements in getting the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme started and the Tribal Rights Bill passed.