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MP: Labourer's Son Becomes First MLA of Tribal Outfit BAP

Kamleshwar Dodiyar says his journey to Vidhan Sabha was inspired by Barack Obama. He worked as a delivery boy at Tiffin Centre, Delhi; was booked under NSA, faced 16 FIRs, and went to jail 11 times.
Kamleshwar Dodiyar says his journey to Vidhan Sabha was inspired by Barack Obama. He worked as a delivery boy at Tiffin Centre, Delhi; was booked under NSA, faced 16 FIRs, and went to jail 11 times.

Bhopal: Riding his brother-in-law's newly purchased Hero splendour motorbike with a neatly pasted sticker saying 'MLA' on the headlight, displaying his newest title, Kamleshwar Dodiyar (34), a tribal leader, travelled 350 km to Bhopal on Wednesday. Dodiyar, who could not afford to rent a car, is the only non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and non-Congress elected legislator from Ratlam's Sailana, a seat reserved for tribals.

After eight hours of journey with three other companions, Dodiyar, associated with the Bharatiya Adivasi Party (BAP) reached Bhopal at 9 p.m to complete the paperwork at Vidhan Sabha after securing his first win. 

Having spent the night at a friend's place, Dodiya reached the Assembly on Thursday morning with a bunch of papers neatly tucked under his arms and his eyes gazing at the lavish Assembly building of atop Arera Hills. Beaming with confidence, he told his companions, "15 years of struggle and hardship has finally paid off."

"We (the country) became independent in 1947 but became slaves of political parties," Dodiyar told NewsClick. 

Before entering the Assembly building, he bowed at the gate. 

Dodiyar’s victory with a margin of 4,618 votes is significant in the bipolar state where the ruling BJP swept 163 seats out of the 230-member House. He trounced Congress' Harsvijay Gehlot, 51, pushing the BJP's Sangeeta Vijay Charel to the third position, securing 37.36 % votes out of 90.10 total votes polled on the seat-- the highest in Madhya Pradesh.

The tribal outfit BAP won one seat in Madhya Pradesh and three seats in neighbouring Rajasthan riding on the campaign for 'Bhil statehood' and basic amenities for tribal hamlets. In the past four elections, Congress won Sailana thrice and BJP once, but now Dodiyar has added BAP to the list.

“We fielded 27 candidates in Rajasthan and nine in Madhya Pradesh. We succeeded in bagging three seats in Rajasthan and one in MP. We also disturbed the poll dynamics on at least five Assembly seats where we came second,” Mohan Lal Roat, BAP's national president, told NewsClick.

He said BAP's priority was to address tribal atrocities and increase tribal representation in politics.

The youngest among nine siblings, Dodiyar lives in a straw-roofed mud house with his parents at Radhagua village of Sailana panchayat. His 62-year-old mother, Seta Bai, works as a daily wager to not only support the family but also look after her husband, Omkarlal Dodiyar, 70, who became disabled after bad hand fracture. His five brothers work as labourers in neighbouring Rajasthan, while his three married sisters also work as labourers to support their families.

Kamleshwar's journey from the tiny village of Ratlam to Vidhan Sabha is inspiring. 

He worked as a daily wage delivery boy at Tiffin Centre when he moved to Delhi to study LLB at Delhi University. He faced 16 FIRs, went to jail 11 times, the longest jail term he served is 84 days. He also faced an externment notice for holding protests and blocking roads to raise the demands of tribals. He was also booked under the stringent National Security Act - 1980 for protesting outside the collector's office in February 2021.

Dodiyar entered politics in 2008 inspired by the political journey of Barack Obama, a black migrant from Kenya who became the 44th president of the United States of America. "Reading the political journey of Obama was a watershed moment in my life. It sprouted a seed in me to become a politician like Obama. That’s when I decided to go for higher studies and joined politics," he said.      

Associated with a tribal outfit, JAYS, he contested the 2018 Assembly election from Sailana as an independent candidate and secured 18,800 votes. The following year, he joined BAP to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha election from Ratlam parliamentary seat and secured around 15,000+ votes. "The results boosted my confidence as I was getting votes without offering money or liquor to anyone," he said.  

With BAP’s demand for a ‘Bhil Pradesh’, encompassing tribals from Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan, Dodiyar moved from one village to another, not only seeking votes but funds to contest elections.


"When he used to address rallies, we collected pennies from the crowd," said his advocate friend Dinesh Garval, who accompanied him to Bhopal on the bike. "We only managed to raise Rs 20,000 even after a dozen rallies. But it was time-consuming, exhausting, and the funds we were receiving weren't enough to meet poll expenses," he added.

But, they did not back down. Dodiyar turned to 'Notra' -- a tribal tradition to raise interest-free loans to support needy tribals. After a dozen of such events, he managed to collect Rs 12 lakh.

Apart from BAP, Kamleshwar Dodiyar turned to the leaders of the tribal outfit JAYS to drum up support. Among leaders who supported him is Anand Rai, a 2013 Vyapam whistleblower.

"The victory in the Assembly election seems evident when BAP won all four zila panchayat seats of Sailana in July 2022, when the state held panchayat/urban polls," said Rai, who campaigned for Dodiyar in many rallies. 

The ‘Bhil Pradesh’ concept of BAP encompasses the districts of Dungarpur, Banswara, Pratapgarh in southern Rajasthan, Ratlam, Jhabua, Alirajpur, Dhar and Petlawad of Madhya Pradesh, the eastern districts of Gujarat like Panchmahal Godhra, Dahod and Dang, and the northern districts of Maharashtra, Nashik and Dhule.

"Even after 75 years of Independence, the tribal hamlets lack basic amenities," he Dodiyar said, adding " The problem of water scarcity and road connectivity still linger over the tribal population." 

The newly elected MLA emphasised that the condition of schools and hospitals was as good as stables. "There is no one to keep a tab on rampant corruption in the scheme floated for tribals. The funds the state received under Article 275A for tribal welfare ended up in corruption," he lamented, vowing to fix these problems in the next five years.    

"Since we now have representation in MP and Rajasthan, we will focus on implementing the 5th Schedule of the Constitution, which deals with the administration and control of Scheduled and tribal areas," he said

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