Home minister Amit Shah will be in Jabalpur on September 18. (HT archive)
Home minister Amit Shah will be in Jabalpur on September 18. (HT archive)

BJP, Congress out to woo tribal voters in Madhya Pradesh

Gonds celebrate the day as Balidan Diwas every year in the memory of Gond king Shankar Shah and his son Kunwar Raghunath Shah for their contribution during the 1857 mutiny. This year, the BJP has decided to go big and honour prominent tribal leaders, and home minister Amit Shah will attend the programme
PUBLISHED ON SEP 13, 2021 04:57 PM IST

Both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress are out to woo the tribals, who comprise one-fifth of the population of Madhya Pradesh, and would see some of their prominent leaders in Jabalpur on September 18.

Gonds celebrate the day as Balidan Diwas every year in the memory of Gond king Shankar Shah and his son Kunwar Raghunath Shah for their contribution during the 1857 mutiny against the British. This year, the BJP has decided to go big and honour prominent tribal leaders and social workers, and Union home minister Amit Shah will attend the programme.

The Congress function will be addressed by former chief minister Digvijaya Singh. The party has already launched multiple events even as it accuses the BJP government in the state of “tormenting” the tribals.

Rakesh Singh, Member of Parliament of BJP from Jabalpur, said the home minister would address tribals on the day and would also meet their leaders and members of different tribal organisation under ‘Janjatiya Samaj Jodo Abhiyan’ to discuss their problems.

“This is part of the BJP exercise to increase outreach among the tribals and tell them how the Congress has cheated them for decades,” he said.

Tribals have 47 seats reserved for them. In 2018 assembly polls, the Congress won 30 of these seats. Political experts say tribals have influence over 78 seats and the Congress returning to power in 2018 was primarily because of its good performance in these seats.

Bhopal-based political analyst Girija Shankar said about Shah’s interaction with tribal leaders, “The BJP is trying to regain control over the tribal belt, especially the Gonds, which are the majority among tribals in the state.”

On its part, the Congress, which has started an Adiwasi Jan Adhikar Yatra on Monday to target the state government over recent crime incidents in tribal areas, will also organised a bike rally on September 18 to pay tribute to the Gond king. Digvijaya Singh will participate in the rally, party leaders said.

MP Congress president Kamal Nath said, “Congress will fight for rights of tribal in MP. The BJP-led state government is working to suppress the tribals.”

Also Read | MP govt announces financial support for tribal man Kanhaiya Lal Bhil’s family

Tribals are a suppressed lot. According to National Crime Records Bureau, the highest number of cases of atrocities against tribals in 2019 were reported from MP and 23 % of cases of rape of tribal women in the country were from the state. Recently, in Nemawar in Dewas district, five members of a family of tribal community was killed and buried while in Neemuch, a 45-year-old tribal man died after being thrashed, and then tied to a moving mini-truck.

Experts point out that the two national parties should be alert to the emergence of Jai Adiwasi Yuva Sangathan (JAYS), a social organisation working for tribals, in the past four years. In 2018 assembly polls, JAYS leader Heeralal Alawa contested as a Congress candidate from Manawar and won by a good margin.

A rally in Jobat on World Indigenous Day recently attracted at least 5,000 people, the local administration said, while initiating action against JAYS for violating Covid protocol.

The organisation has a dedicated platform to raise issues of tribal rights. JAYS spokesperson Anand Rai said, “Tribals have now realised that they are just a vote bank for political parties and no one is interested in raising their issues. We are not a political party... but if they want us to contest elections, we will think about it like Heera Alawa did. For us, tribals are not just voters, but a community facing oppression for years.”

JAYS’ rise can also be attributed to the dwindling influence of Gondwana Ganatantra Party (GGP). “JAYS gained popularity due to social media. They don’t know the real issues of tribals. They raise only those issues which are highlighted by media...we are the ones who try to get justice for every tribal,” GGP’s newly appointed president Aman Singh Porthe said.

Tribal rights experts say there is a fight over tribal votes as they tend to vote en bloc. “Tribal voters were never afraid of experimenting and know the importance of their votes. They believe in giving s chance to new people and that is why GGP, and now JAYS, has gained popularity. The BJP and Congress need to accept this,” said Gajanand Brahmane, a tribal right expert working in west MP.

Congress MLA and former minister Omkar Singh Markam said, “BJP is the biggest threat for tribal as RSS and BJP is trying to change the tradition and history of tribal by calling them a part of Sanatan Dharm. They are organising Ram Leela and Durga festival in tribal belt with distorted facts to misguide them.”

However, BJP’s tribal MLA Ram Dangore said, “Congress has failed to uplift the tribals in the past 70 years. They want us to live like vanvasis but now we need development. We don’t want to be forest dwellers only. We want to become IAS and IPS officers too. The BJP is putting in efforts to enhance their education and standard of living.”

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