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Tribals want rights, take on BJP & Cong

Tribals campaign neither for the BJP nor Congress but for the Lok Sangharsh Morcha in Gujarat, reports Zeeshan Shaikh.

india Updated: Dec 01, 2007 00:59 IST
Zeeshan Shaikh

Dinkar Gavit, 22, the first post-graduate student from his village, hardly fits the stereotype of a political activist. Yet Gavit leads a rag-tag group of tribal youngsters who, for the past week, have been moving all over south east Gujarat's tribal areas, canvassing for votes.

He campaigns neither for the BJP nor Congress but for the Lok Sangharsh Morcha (LSM), a social group that has jumped into the electoral fray contesting from four tribal seats for the first time.

A large part of the tribal population here comprises people displaced by the building of the Ukai dam in the 1960s and the Narmada dam in the last decade. Around 1.5 lakh tribal families lost their homes when the Ukai dam was built of whom barely 16,000 have been rehabilitated.

"Tribals have long been exploited by political parties in Gujarat. It is high time they asserted themselves by electing those who will work for the community rather than pander to the wishes of their political masters," said Gavit.

The LSM, which has been working for years in the area, is fielding independent candidates in four tribal dominated constituencies: Songarh and Nijar in Tapi district, Saagbara in Narmada district and Mangrol in Surat district. Two of the seats are presently held by the BJP, one by the Congress and one by Janata Dal (U).

"I belong to a displaced tribal family. When we agitate against the state's apathy we are called Naxalites. We are only asking for our basic rights as citizens which parties like the BJP and the Congress have failed to provide," said Bhikubhai Tadvi, who is contesting from Dadiapara in Narmada district.

Tribals are funding the candidates themselves. "We have formed groups of 20 villages each throughout the four constituencies. Every such group is contributing money to hire a single jeep for campaigning and feed the workers," said Mirjibhai Gavit of Chuchurbunda village.

"It is not a question of winning or losing, but of being heard," said Ambarish Rai, the LSM's president. "This is just the beginning."