Congress plans Satyagraha yatra to focus on Gujarat tribals
Rahul Gandhi will flag off Adivasi Satyagraha yatra in Gujarat on Tuesday as part of the Congress attempts to consolidate its position in the tribal areas ahead of the December Assembly election in the state.
The Adivasi Satyagraha yatra will cover all the 27 reserved seats for the Scheduled Tribes (ST), apart from the 12-13 more constituencies where tribal voters have influence. The Congress enjoys a decisive edge in the tribal region over the ruling BJP but the entry of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which has sought to alter the political dynamics by aligning with Chhotubhai Vasava’s outfit, has caused serious concerns.
The Congress had worked hard in tribal region to consolidate its position but the AAP’s alliance with Vasava’s Bharatiya Tribal Party has the potential of creating a three-cornered fight. Vasava has two MLAs and pockets of influence which is set to amplify this time with the AAP’s capacity to create a buzz at election time. Though the Congress leaders dismiss the AAP challenge, smaller parties have the potential to change the outcome in closely contested battles.
In Goa, while the AAP polled 6.77 per cent votes, Trinamul Congress cornered 5.21 per cent votes and its ally Maharashtra Gomantak Party got 7.6 per cent votes. The difference between the votes polled by the BJP and the Congress was merely 10 per cent, much lesser than the 19.5 per cent these smaller parties sliced away. In the 2017 Gujarat Assembly election, the BJP just managed to win with a margin of less than 8 per cent votes.
The Congress leaders from Gujarat admit in off-the-record conversations that the AAP was generating interest in the state, particularly in Saurashtra and tribal regions, and was bound to cut into the anti-incumbency votes.
One senior leader told The Telegraph: “So far, the Congress hasn’t been very aggressive. Though our state unit is working hard but hasn’t been able to create an impact. It looks much worse than the last time when the Congress appeared to be in contest. We hope things will change with Rahul Gandhi’s rally day after tomorrow.”
The Congress had established its hold on the tribal areas by leading the movement against possible displacement to be caused by river-linking project and its leaders Anant Patel and Sukhram Rathwa continuously gave voice to the people’s concerns. But the Congress received a major jolt a few days ago when a prominent tribal leader Ashwin Kotwal left the party to join the BJP.
Kotwal, who aspired a bigger position in the state unit, hit out after quitting, “for a long time, I was very aggrieved by the working style of the party I was associated with.” The 58-year-old tribal leader represented the constituency of Khedbrahma in north Gujarat’s Sabarkantha district for three terms.
The Congress is grappling with other problems as well. While its working president Hardik Patel has been throwing hints of discontent and possibility of quitting the party, the Prashant Kishor mess demolished the possibility of Naresh Patel — another important Patidar leader — joining the party. Kishor was negotiating with Naresh Patel and now he is unlikely to join after the election strategist himself charted a different course. Internal dissensions are another cause of worry for the party.
Congress leaders, however, insist there was time for real electioneering to start and they were fully geared to pose a formidable challenge. Rahul had given lots of time in the last election and the party improved its position significantly but that kind of interest hasn’t been seen this time so far. The party’s organisational election is going on and the new president will be elected only by August-September. Majority of leaders believe that will be too late to mount a focused offensive against the powerful election machinery run by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah in Gujarat.
The state unit is trying to keep the boat afloat on its part. Sources said there has been massive mobilisation for the Tuesday’s Adivasi Satyagraha. The party has used social media to highlight the neglect of tribals by the BJP government. It pointed to the highest school dropout ratio in the state in tribal areas because of absence of schools in villages and poor connectivity with the cities. “The BJP has kept adivasis poor. Below Poverty Line in Dang – 31.5%, Dahod – 40%, Narmada – 34%, Tapi – 28.36%. No jobs, no indigenous business, no banks, no incentive for growth,” one post by the party said.