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Madhya Pradesh assembly elections 2018: Migration in tribal belt upsets poll calculation

Hundreds of poor tribals are migrating to Gujarat every day from Madhya Pradesh’s Jhabua and neighbouring Alirajpur districts, casting a shadow on the Assembly elections scheduled on November 28.

Madhya Pradesh Elections 2018 Updated: Nov 19, 2018 18:17 IST
Punya Priya Mitra
Punya Priya Mitra
Hindustan Times, Jhabua (Madhya Pradesh)
Madhya Pradesh,madhya pradesh assembly elections,madhya pradesh assembly elections 2018
Hundreds of poor tribals are migrating to Gujarat every day from Madhya Pradesh’s Jhabua and neighbouring Alirajpur districts.(HT File Photo)

With two sacks full of makka (corn cob) and other essentials, Narsingh Meda (30), his wife and three kids are waiting for a bus at the Jhabua-Gujarat border near Pittol to go to Rajkot, Gujarat, where they will work at a construction site for the next few months.

They are among hundreds of poor tribals who are migrating to Gujarat every day from Madhya Pradesh’s Jhabua and neighbouring Alirajpur districts, casting a shadow on the Assembly elections scheduled on November 28, say political observers. The five assembly seats in the two districts were won by BJP in the 2013 polls.

There are at least 50 points along the border between Jhabua and Alirajpur and Gujarat from where buses and other vehicles leave every hour for different towns in Gujarat. The tribals are packed like sardines in these vehicles, some precariously hanging from specially designed iron rods.

A senior official at the district collectorate estimated that 25-30% of the 18 lakh population of these two districts has migrated. This estimate is based on details of people leaving the state at border check points with Gujarat by the district officials, who are giving them ‘peeli chawal’ (rice laced with turmeric), which symbolises the promise to return for polling.

Jhabua collector Ashish Saxena says, “We have taken down their phone numbers and we will call them and urge them to come back to vote, reminding them of the promise they made while taking the ‘peeli chawal’. We have sent teams and contacted various factory owners in Gujarat, urging them to allow their employees paid leave for voting. This exercise will help us in the future also in assisting the migrant workers in matters of health and education.”

Narsingh says, “We come for Bhagoria (Holi), then just before the sowing season and then Diwali to our village Retalunja, situated some 6 km from Pittol and then go back. We know there is an election, but there is no work in Jhabua and there is no water to sow the winter crop, so there is no point staying back. Also, the wages in Madhya Pradesh are half of what they give in Gujarat, which is around Rs 400 for unskilled work.”

He is unsure whether he will come back for voting. “If someone gives me the fare and my daily wages for three days, I will come back,” he says frankly.

This annual migration is upsetting the electoral calculations of the BJP and the Congress. It is also worrying the administration, which fears a low turnout and is taking several steps to ensure that the workers come back to vote.

Said a Congress leader who did not wish to be named, “In villages we dominate, we are losing precious voters, and our effort will be to bankroll their return, for which we are contacting the village ‘tadvi’ (headman). For every voter, political parties have to give three days’ wage, which comes to Rs 1,200, and Rs 600 as fare. The only consolation is that BJP is facing the same predicament.”

Congress candidate Vikant Bhuria says migration is a major challenge that the BJP has failed to tackle in 15 years. Had the ruling party created jobs this migration, which spawns various problems, would have stopped.

BJP candidate from Jhabua, Guman Singh Damor, is defensive about the migration. “It is not really migration. They go to earn and then come back. People move from one state to another all the time.” He adds that the administration is trying to bring the migrants back to vote.

For the administration, the main challenge is to ensure that the voting percentage does not fall below the 54% and 56% that Jhabua and Alirajpur respectively logged in the 2013 Assembly polls. The state polling percentage in 2013 was 74.95.

Jhabua-based social worker Benedict Damore, who runs Chetna HS School in Jhabua, says, “It is doubtful if the tribals will come back, and one should not expect them to come back. True there has been some development but compared to other regions, this region is backward on most parameters.”

First Published: Nov 17, 2018 23:40 IST