Ahmedabad: As Gujarat
gets ready to go to the polls next month, the closest contest is
going to be perhaps over the hilly and densely forested eastern
peripheries of the state, where the majority of the population is
tribal in origin.
The tribal parts of the state, called Poorvi Patti (Eastern Belt),
constitute 26 of Gujarat's 182 constituencies. Adivasis comprise
14-15 percent (five million) of Gujarat's population. There are 37
tribes in the state. The majority of these are Bhils, who in turn
are subdivided into Vasavas and Rathwas. Other tribes include
Dhodias, Chaudharys, Gamits and Halapatis.
The spoils were divided equally between the ruling Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP), now making its third bid for power, and the
Congress in the last elections.
And this time is likely to be no different, say analysts with the
BJP not doing enough for the development in the area and the
Congress unable to play up the ruling party's failures.
"It is going to be close," said Satyakam Joshi from the Surat-based
Centre for Social Studies (CSS).
"Gujarat's adivasis (tribals) are not very happy with a decade of
Modi's rule. Disparities have increased a lot. But so has
polarisation. Things are not well with the Congress either. I can
predict 12-13 seats for the BJP. A lot will depend on the
Congress' choice of candidates," Joshi told IANS.
After Gujarat was carved out of the Bombay Presidency in 1960, one
of its chief ministers, the Congress' Madhavsinh Solanki (who
served four terms), pioneered the politics of KHAM - Kshatriya,
Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim - in the 1970s and 80s. The formula
worked and succeeded in garnering votes for the Congress.
But with the rise of the Hindu right, Gujarat's tribal areas
became a battleground between Sangh outfits and evangelical
Christian missionaries seeking 'to harvest' tribal souls.
With Sangh outfits making inroads into tribal areas, the Poorvi
Patti is no longer a Congress stronghold and will see a close
fight Dec 13 and 17.
"In the last four assembly and Lok Sabha polls, there has been
neck-and-neck competition though with greater inclination towards
the Congress in comparison to the rest of the state," said Ganesh
Devy, founder of the Adivasi Academy in Chhota Udepur's Tejgadh
and an authority on Gujarat's tribals.
"The Congress will take 55-60 percent of the vote with the BJP
garnering 40-45 percent," he estimated.
But what about Modi's sops like inducting tribals in his cabinet,
nominating a tribal as assembly speaker and creating new 'tribal'
"All that does not help. For the tribal areas have lagged behind
the rest of Gujarat in development," said Joshi.
Besides development, Gujarat's tribals are also looking for
redressal of other issues.
"There is a lot of simmering going on in tribal areas over these
issues," he said.
"They want implementation of the Fifth Schedule of the
constitution which mandates that the permission of a Tribal
Advisory Council be taken before any mining or industrial activity
is taken up in tribal areas.
"Then there is the Forest Rights Act of 2006. Just 12-13 percent
of claimants under this act have been compensated.
"The Panchayati Raj Extension to Scheduled Areas Act of 1998 has
not yet been implemented in tribal areas. NREGA is weakly
implemented here. There is also weak implementation of wages.
While Rs.137 is the standard wage for agricultural labour, here it
is Rs.70-75," Joshi explained.
Gujarat's tribals have been losers both ways, said Ashok Chaudhary
of the Adivasi Ekta Parishad.
"If they do not have development, they will be unemployed. If
development comes to their areas, their control over the forest
and land will decrease."
"All we want is that we should get to keep what we have. That is
the least we can expect from the next government in Gandhinagar,"
Chaudhary told IANS.
Poorvi Patti stretches from Banaskantha district on the
Gujarat-Rajasthan border to Valsad district on the
Gujarat-Maharashtra border. Besides Banaskantha and Valsad, it
comprises the districts of Sabarkantha, Panchmahal, Dahod, Dangs
and Navsari. It also comprises the brand new districts of Chhota
Udepur (carved from Vadodara), Narmada (from Bharuch) and
Tapi-Vyara (from Surat).
(Rajat Ghai can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)