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About time Congress projected tribal faces in Gujarat | Analysis

Gujarat accounts for 8.1% of the country’s tribal population with the scheduled tribes having a share of 14.8% in the state’s demographic mix.

india Updated: Nov 07, 2017 09:00 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
New Delhi, Hindustan Times
Congress,Gujarat,Gujarat elections
Congress workers felicitate party vice-president Rahul Gandhi during a public meeting in Kheda district, Gujarat.(PTI file)

Dispassionate observers see a gaping lacuna in the Congress’s Gujarat campaign that has thus far focused on reaching out to three young outsiders — Patidar leader Hardik Patel, Dalit activist Jignesh Mevani and OBC face Alpesh Thakor.

The Congress’s last memorable victory in the state was on the strength of Madhavsinh Solanki’s KHAM social grouping of Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims.

Unconsciously or by design, the formation the party now seems to be projecting (by associating with the emerging trinity) isn’t adequately inclusive of the state’s tribal communities that have influence in over a dozen seats across South, Central and North Gujarat.

The oversight is surprising. For it was tribal MLA Chhotubhai Vasava’s vote that helped Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel return to the Rajya Sabha, overturning the BJP’s full throttle challenge.

Closely associated with rebellious Janata Dal (U) veteran Sharad Yadav, Vasava had met Rahul Gandhi in Delhi after the RS polls. But the meeting went unnoticed, unlike the Congress vice-president’s much hyped interactions with Hardik, Alpesh and Jignesh.

Vasava’s Gujarat Parivartan Party has a track record of taking up tribal land and forest rights issues. The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 that came into effect in 2008 under UPA-I lent legal sanctity to the demands.

“It’s surprising the Congress’s media managers didn’t go to town over their leader’s meeting with Vasava the way they did with the other three,” said an aide of Sharad Yadav.

Vasava himself said that Rahul did not stop by at his constituency, Jhagadia, on his recent visit to Bharuch district.

Gujarat accounts for 8.1% of the country’s tribal population with the scheduled tribes having a share of 14.8% in the state’s demographic mix.

Of that the Bheels constitute half (47.85%) the combined strength of 11 tribes.

The Congress’s focus on Patidars (Patels) makes electoral sense but only partly; the Patels are a politicised community aligned with the BJP since the days of KHAM.

A split in their rank will hurt the ruling party.

But the jury is out still on the quantum of the split Hardik can guarantee. The cost of the envisaged socio-political alliance has to be assessed also by factoring in the downside: an OBC blowback in the job quota scramble.

Patidars could be difficult customers because of the rivalry between Kadava and Leuva subcastes. In the last elections, the former voted en bloc for Narendra Modi in North Gujarat in reaction to the Leuva rebellion (led by Keshubhai Patel) in Saurashtra.

Hardik is a Kadava Patel. His community has good presence in the North and Ahmedabad that’s the PM’s home district. The question is whether he can swing the tide in favour of the Congress against the BJP’s bid to monopolise the legacy of Sardar Patel— the first among the Kadavas.

The signs of tribals and harijans drifting away from the ruling party in recent years are acknowledged even by BJP insiders.

Speaking up aggressively for their cause will not upset other social groups the Congress is wooing. About time then that the party projected faces from among STs and Dalits to set up a keen contest.

First Published: Nov 07, 2017 08:09 IST