The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Chopper dust in Congress eyes
- One-man party in helicopter threatens to split tribal votes

Vedachi (South Gujarat), Dec. 6: A BJP Trojan horse from Dadra and Nagar Haveli and the whimsical distribution of tickets will probably prevent the Congress from improving its electoral tally in its traditional bastion of tribal-dominated southern Gujarat.

It may not lose too many seats, but it will have to contend with Independents, outbidding it in electoral promises to tribals, and rebel Congress candidates.

But is Dadra and Nagar Haveli Independent MP Mohan Delkar really the BJP’s Trojan horse in the tribal-dominated constituencies of Gujarat' Many Congressmen and adivasi leaders think so.

Delkar has been criss-crossing the tribal areas of Gujarat in a helicopter. For a one-man party, he has spread himself thin which can only be deliberate. He has fielded 34 candidates in the 46 tribal-dominated constituencies — of these, 26 are reserved for tribals and 20 are those in which tribals are a significant factor. Of the 26 reserved tribal seats, 17 are in the southern districts of Bharuch, Narmada, Surat, Navsari, Valsad and Dangs.

People say Delkar has Rs 22 crore at his disposal. When tribals are bussed to public meetings of his newly-formed Bharatiya Navshakti Party (earlier called Parivartan Manch), a cook, cooking utensils and food travel with them.

“He is a one-man show on a helicopter. He is trying to divide the tribal vote. He tried to offer money to some of the Congress rebel candidates if they contested on his party’s ticket, but they refused,” says Narayan Desai, veteran Gandhian and son of Mahatma Gandhi’s secretary Mahadev Desai. He runs the Gandhi Vidyapeeth at Vedachi, training tribal youth.

Although Delkar has come to Gujarat a bit late in his political life, educated unemployed youths in tribal areas are flocking to him. And his promise of forest land to tribals is leading to intense day-dreaming about land-ownership. Sober tribal leaders are obviously upset with the Delkar factor.

Amritbai, a field worker with the Adivasi Sarvangi Vikas Sangh, asks: “Why has he come here after being an MP for 18 years' There has to be a reason for him to come here now — there could be a conspiracy by the ruling party to undercut the adivasi vote.”

Paresh Chaudhary, a lawyer and convener of the Gujarat Adivasi Sabha, asks in a similar vein: “Where was Mohan Delkar till now and why has he emerged only one-and- a-half months before the elections as the ‘saviour of the tribals’'

“We believe that he is a BJP man. He is with the National Democratic Alliance at the Centre. He has not come here to win but to see the Congress defeated by dividing the tribal vote,” he says.

Chaudhary is no admirer of the Congress, but says that for the first time in Gujarat tribals have realised that “defeating the BJP is to defeat fascism”.

Chaudhary says Delkar’s candidates have been put in only those constituencies where the Congress is strong. “The Congress will not lose because of him, but its vote share will certainly go down a bit,” he says.

The Delkar factor may be blamed on the BJP, but the Congress has no one to blame for what is being perceived as whimsical selection of candidates. Thus, Narayan Desai says: “The Congress had a very good chance of winning all the tribal seats of South Gujarat. But my regret is that some of their candidates have no reputation to speak of. Their influence is more with the Central leaders in Delhi than in their own constituencies.”

Desai recounts how Iswarbhai Vahiya, who won the Mahua seat in the byelection against the BJP, was denied a ticket because someone had told the Congress leaders in Delhi that he was paralysed and bed-ridden. When he protested against such falsehood, he was asked to present himself before the high command to prove that he could stand up straight and walk. He went to Delhi, waited for three days outside the room of the general secretary in charge of Gujarat, but was not called in to meet him. Today as a rebel Congress candidate he is giving the official contestant a run for his money.

There are four such rebels in Surat district alone. And there are others elsewhere. The Gandhian in Narayan Desai was so revolted by this that to take on the BJP he is now supporting the Congress rebels because he thinks the BJP must be defeated.

Did he actually say “it was better to vote for a black dog than for the BJP”' Desai, who enjoys tremendous influence with the tribals of South Gujarat, having trained at least two generations of them at his Vidyapeeth, says: “I never use such words. But what is true is that I am addressing election meetings after 25 years. I had done so to oppose Indira Gandhi’s Emergency and I am doing it now to oppose communalism and fascism. Regrettably, the Congress is the only alternative. So I am asking people to vote for the Congress or for rebel Congress candidates where they have a better chance of winning.”

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