The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP on a sticky wicket in south

Zankhvav (South Gujarat), Dec. 8: There is no wave in favour of any political party in the adivasi areas of southern Gujarat. There is also no impact of the communal sentiment in the rural areas here, except in the Dangs.

Although the Congress is not seen as the saviour of the adivasis, it is likely to get the negative vote against the BJP. It will not be a cakewalk for the Congress as it also has to contend with Independents cutting into its voteshare and as there are Congress rebels in the fray, too.

“Communalism is not a major issue in the adivasi areas. Unemployment, a share in the development cake, regularisation of forest land occupied by the adivasis and lack of infrastructure, water and electricity are the important issues,” says Satyakam Joshi, a political scientist working in Surat.

With the exception of the Dangs, the BJP is perceived to be on a weak wicket in south Gujarat. Stany Pinto, a social anthropologist working on awareness building among adivasis, says: “There is a lack of enthusiasm for the BJP in the villages. Although they do have a committed vote built up over the years by the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad, but of late, it has not been growing.”

There are two reasons, Pinto says, why the adivasis would vote for the Congress: “There is a hesitation among the adivasis to be a part of any small party, even though they know that the big parties have failed them. So Independents will not make much of a difference. The adivasis also don’t want to go to the BJP because hatred cannot become an ideology for them.”

Mahendra Padavi, an adivasi from Nizer, echoes this sentiment. “No one in the tribal area will go with the Hindu agenda,” he says. “Three advasis coming out of the Rajpipla Samaj Seva Mandal do not want to identity themselves but say ‘the BJP is not winning here. It will probably be the Congress’.”

Dineshbhai from Umarpada says this should not, however, mean that Hinduisation is not going on in the tribal areas. “They are making an attempt to communalise the people,” he said.

Banachand Gamit from Areth sports a large Vaishnavite mark on his forehead while he sits in the BJP election office. He supports the party because he claims “the BJP has not misled the adivasis and has ensured that grants meant for them are used only for them”.

It is another matter that tribal grants are routinely returned to Gandhinagar unutilised.

In Gujarat, there are approximately 28,000 jobs reserved for adivasis, which have not been filled. There is no recruitment because of the government’s austerity measures. Gamit explains this by saying: “These vacancies have been there before the BJP took over.”

What the adivasis are most upset about is the changes the BJP has brought about in the land policy, which directly affect them. There was a rule in Gujarat that farmers could own land only within 8 km of their residence. This has been changed by the BJP government.

So Bipin Chaudhary, an adivasi from Vyaara, says: “Now tribal land is being bought in south Gujarat by Kathiawad Patels in a big way.”

Paresh Chaudhary of the Gujarat Adivasi Sabha says: “The BJP has also loosened the land revenue code provision that said adivasi land could not be given or transferred to non-adivasis. This has created resentment among our people.”

There is also awareness among the adivasis that they get little or nothing out of the development process. Rukshmani Chaudhary of Mangrol says: “They put up big projects in our areas — dams, lignite mines, stone quarries. But we only get displaced.”

“People are aware that the water from Narmada and Ukai dam go elsewhere. Even the electricity from the nuclear plant at Kakrapar in the tribal area goes out of this region. So when politicians promise water and electricity to the adivasis, nobody believes them,” says a Christian missionary working with the adivasis. “Now, in the name of protecting the environment, the adivasis are being threatened with eviction from lands they have cultivated for 30 to 40 years.”

The adivasi leadership that emerges to take up these issues quickly gets assimilated in the non-tribal mainstream. “After they get elected, educated or get government jobs, the tribal elite starts identifying with the ujliyat or fair people as the adivasis call the non-adivasis or caste people,” the missionary says.

What politics has done for the adivasis of south Gujarat is that it has encouraged differences within them. “Earlier, they were fighting for a pan-tribal identity. But now they are asserting their sub-tribal identities,” says Satyakam Joshi.

“Identity politics in itself is exclusivist but you could say that pan-tribal identity was at least a way of organising the adivasis. But one does not know where this Gamit vs Chaudhary or Halpati vs some other tribe would lead the adivasis.”

“Politically, the Congress has not done much for the adivasis. But, as of now, the adivasis think they cannot go with those who represent revenge and hatred. So my assessment is that there will be a negative vote in favour of the Congress,” a Christian priest says.

“But the BJP is using its allies — Mohan Delkar’s Bhartiya Navshakti Party and the Janata Dal (United) — to cut into the Congress vote. So the Congress would have to fight hard to win.”

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