The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tribal test on Cong turf

Jhabua (Madhya Pradesh), Nov. 30: In the tribal belt of Jhabua on the far edge of Madhya Pradesh, cheek by jowl with Gujarat, the tribal residents have only one concern — their livelihood, which may affect the poll outcome.

At five in the evening, hundreds of tribals are served a meal by the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad (VKP), an RSS outfit, at a training camp to teach them the duties of a polling agent. The tribal volunteers will be the BJP’s agents on December 1.

“During our four-month-long jan jagran abhiyan (people’s awareness campaign), we have been teaching the tribals what issues to raise,” VKP general secretary Mahesh Sharma says.

But he gives away the real purpose when he adds: “Our main aim is to make the tribals aware of their Hindu identity.”

The tribal Jhabua segment has traditionally been Congress turf. From the five seats here, the voters returned four Congress legislators in the last Assembly polls and only one of the main Opposition party, the BJP.

Five years down the line, the mood appears to have changed, mostly due to the VKP but no less because of Narendra Modi and his government.

The Gujarat chief minister has come to wield considerable influence among the tribals here. “Seventy-five per cent of tribals are migrating to Gujarat for daily-wage jobs. They get Rs 150 a day whereas here they will not get even Rs 50. To them, Narendra Modi is god,” a local leader explains.

The last week saw Modi stepping up his campaign in the region but, like elsewhere, the Hindutva brigade’s mascot chose to stick to the development plank.

Yesterday afternoon, thousands of tribals turned up to hear him speak at a meeting in Thandla district. Modi talked about the development in his state and the lack of it in Congress-run Madhya Pradesh.

His cronies, however, smuggled in the real agenda when they took the podium. “Digvijay Singh wants to know how many tribal households accepted the Ganesh idol. Hindusthan mein Bhagwan Ram aur Hanuman ki puja nahin karenge to kiska karenge (In India, who do we worship other than Lord Ram and Hanuman)'” an RSS leader asked the tribals.

“The turning point came with the Hindu sangam the VKP organised among tribals three years ago. After the programme, the outfit went around installing idols of Ganesh in every tribal home,” additional superintendent of police Dharmendra Chaudhury said.

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