The Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) has announced that it will joins hands with the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) for the upcoming local body elections in Gujarat.
The BTP, led by veteran tribal leader Chotubhai Vasava, had ended its alliance with Congress in Narmada and Bharuch, both tribal dominated districts, earlier in December this year. Congress and BTP were jointly heading the Bharuch district panchayat while in Narmada, the BTP had complete majority.
Vasava’s son Mahesh, who is party president and MLA from Dediapara constituency in Narmada, said: “BTP had a bad experience with Congress in the Rajasthan panchayat elections, as it did not support us in Dungarpur district panchayat and nine taluka panchayats.”
The BTP had tied up with Congress ahead of the Gujarat Assembly elections in 2017 when Vasava, then the lone MLA form Janata Dal (United) broke out of the party and decided to contest election from the newly formed party, BTP.
Vasava, a formidable leader in the tribal region, who has won seven legislative elections from Jhagadiya constituency, was an important political aide for Congress. Soon after the state elections, the father-son duo proved to be crucial for Congress for guaranteeing their votes to late Ahmed Patel in a nail-biting contest in the Rajya Sabha polls in 2017.
However, the BTP began to gradually distance itself from Congress on various issues concerning tribals of the region. In June this year, the father-son duo chose to not vote in the Rajya Sabha elections, leading to BJP winning three seats out of four. Echoes of Congress-BTP differences reached Rajasthan in July this year, when senior Vasava issued a whip to two of his party MLAs to not support Congress in the floor test.
“Our dispute is with both the parties when it comes to trbal issues. Both BJP and Congress are not willing to implement Schedule V and PESA (Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996) in its wholeness. The BJP government has been grabbing tribal land in the name of development and selling them to big industrialists. PESA empowers the gram sabhas to be able to control that but they (Congress and BJP) will ensure the power is not handed over to the tribals,” Chotu Vasava told the media.
Meanwhile, disgruntlement over tribal issues has affected the BJP as well. Tribal leaders in the party have expressed their unhappiness with the way the party has been dealing with the community.
Mansukh Vasava, BJP’s MP from Bharuch, tendered his resignation on December 29 and a day later declared that he would withdraw his resignation. However, while resigning, he had written a letter to the Prime Minister requesting him to withdraw the Centre’s notification classifying 121 villages around Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary in Narmada district as ‘eco- sensitive zones’.
The Bharuch MP wrote that “tribals were apprehensive as they were not taken into confidence.” He appealed in his letter, “the notification be withdrawn to mitigate the protest.”
BJP’s state leader in its tribal cell and a former MLA from Dediapara constituency, Motilal Vasava had earlier written to sarpanches of 121 villages to utilise the upcoming gram sabha to pass a resolution against the government order to implement the order of Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change.
Tribals in the state have been protesting against the order since November last year when it was first served by the district authorities. In accordance with the provisions of the notification, land falling in the eco sensitive zone, which includes land belonging to forest and horticulture departments, can be used for non-agricultural or commercial use by the approval of state government only. The notification also initiated a process of including the State as a co-owner of the land in 121 tribal villages.
The BJP, which doesn’t have a stronghold in the tribal areas, has been trying to gain a political foothold in the region. Alongside, a systematic process of political infiltration camouflaged as cultural influence is being carried out by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and other Hindutva organisations. Some tribal activists claim that there has been a sudden rise in visits of Hindu godmen and events like Ram Katha in the region for the about last six or seven years.
Noticeably, the two districts -- Bharuch and Narmada in South Gujarat -- where BTP has a strong hold in Gujarat also have a sizeable population of Muslims. The advent of Asaddudin Owaisi’s AIMIM in the region is expected to consolidate tribal and Muslim votes against BJP.
However, the Gujarat Congress feels that the move will help the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in the state.
“This is a move out born out of sheer frustration and is alliance of convenience. The BTP and AIMIM coming together is going to help BJP in electoral politics,” Paresh Dhanani, Leader of Opposition, had told the media.
Following the recent demise of Congress leader Ahmed Patel, who hailed from Bharuch and played a crucial role in the politics of the region apart from a national role, the party is yet to find a leader from South Gujarat.