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Tribal Activists Doubt BJP’s Outreach to Madhya Pradesh Tribes

Kashif Kakvi |
The BJP could win only 16 of the 47 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes in the 2018 Assembly polls.
Tribal Activists Doubt BJP’s Outreach to Madhya Pradesh Tribes

Bhopal: The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) massive outreach to the tribes of Madhya Pradesh has been slammed by tribal activists and political analysts as another series of “unfulfilled promises” that might not convince the voters to change their loyalty in the 2023 Assembly elections.

In his second visit to the state in seven months on Friday, Union home minister Amit Shah announced a series of financial measures for the tribal population at the Van Samiti Sammelan at Jamboree Maidan, Bhopal, on Friday.

The measures included making forest dwellers the ‘owners’ of forests, converting 827 out of the 925 forest villages into ‘revenue’ villages, distributing Rs 125 crore among 22 lakh out of the 45 lakh tendu leaf collectors and increasing their daily by Rs 50.

Since the British era, the ownership of forests was always with the government. For the first time, a government has given the ownership of forests to tribals,” Shah said referring to state forest minister Vijay Shah’s announcement offering a 20% share in the sale of forest produce, including precious teakwood, to forest committees. Madhya Pradesh is the first state to make forest dwellers the owners of forests, he added.

Spelling the details of revenue villages, Shah said, “As many as 827 out of 925 forest villages in 26 districts will start getting facilities of revenue villages—housing loans and revenue rights with the help of 15,600-plus gram sabhas in the state.”

Stressing the importance of tribes in the state, Shah said, “Madhya Pradesh, which has more than 21% tribal population, can’t develop without them. The 17 promises we made seven months ago in Jabalpur are being implemented while the rest are in the pipeline.”

Praising chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the home minister said that he has “turned Madhya Pradesh from a BIMARU state to a developed one”.

With the forest villages becoming revenue villages, the benefits of crop insurance scheme will be available during natural calamities. The dwellers will also get better health facilities,” Chouhan said during the conference.

Announcing a hike of Rs 50 per hundred bundles of tendu leaves, Chouhan said that the collectors will get Rs 300 instead of Rs 250. “Water, land and forests belong to forest dwellers. By getting a share of the income earned from forests, they will cooperate in the development of forests,” he said.

According to sources, Shah held a two-hour meeting with party leaders and office-bearers at BJP’s state headquarters and chalked out a plan for the 2023 Assembly elections.

On November 15 last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Bhopal to observe the first Janjati Gaurav Diwas and renamed the Habibganj Railway Station after Gond queen Rani Kamlapati. Almost two months before Modi’s visit, Shah had addressed the tribals of Vindhya region, in Jabalpur, and made more than 17 announcements. 

The BJP, which has been in power in Madhya Pradesh since 2003, excluding the 15-month-long Congress rule in 2018, has initiated the outreach after losing several tribal seats in the last polls. In the 2018 Assembly election defeat, the BJP could win only 16 of the 47 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes (STs), down from 31 ST in 2013.

Out of the 230 Assembly seats, 47 are reserved for STs and 35 for Scheduled Castes. Apart from the reserved seats, tribal voters have an influence on more than 25 other seats in state politics. Therefore, the party is desperately trying to woo the state’s 1.53 crore tribal population to win more seats in the next polls.

In the last seven months, the BJP announced to set up memorials and museums highlighting the participation of tribal leaders in the freedom struggle, implementation of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, (PESA) and legalising Mohua, a staple drink of the tribals, which will be sold as heritage liquor.

Chouhan also announced to drop petty cases registered against tribals most of which are related to the production and sale of Mahua. Besides, food grains distributed under the Public Distribution System will be delivered to homes in all the 89 tribal blocks.

Despite the BJP’s outreach, several tribal activists like Gulzar Singh Markam are not convinced. “The biggest issue for the tribals is the non-implementation of the Forest Right Act, 2005, (FRA). More than a lakh claims filed under the FRA have been pending for almost three years,” he told Newsclick over the phone alleging that every second day, forest officials attack a tribal family and burn its crops by labelling it illegal”.

When asked about the conversion of forest villages into revenue villages, Markam, the president of Gondwana Samagra Kranti Andolan, said, “Shivraj is infamous for making unfulfilled promises. He made similar announcements before the 2013 and 2018 elections but forgot about them after returning to the power.”

Even seven months after the announcement, “PESA has not been implemented. As far as the PDS ration is concerned, the beneficiaries are at the mercy of the delivery man. Those who are going to PDS shops to collect ration are being shouted away. Ration is not delivered to homes in remote areas with no roads”, Markam added.

Taking a dig at Shah’s visit to Bhopal, the leader of the Opposition, Kamal Nath, pointed out, “Amit Shah is welcome to Madhya Pradesh. He needs to see the bad condition of the state and how the government is betraying the people. Every section of society is distraught with the government only making announcements. But the voter knows the reality.”

A political analyst pointed out that the BJP doesn’t miss a chance to woo tribals. “But it’s unclear whether these sops will convince tribal voters to shift their loyalty to the BJP. With Assembly elections 18 months away, it’s not easy to predict the voting pattern,” he told Newsclick.

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