Ahmedabad: The BJP suffered a setback in the 2017 Gujarat Assembly elections due to the Patidar quota agitation, restricting its tally to 99.
But in 2022, the BJP is not relying on its trusted vote bank of Patidars.
Instead, the party is focusing on tribals and the Other Backward Castes (OBCs) this time.
An indication of the BJP’s shift in focus to tribals came a couple of years ago when the state government allocated a significant budget for tribal development programmes.
Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi kicked off his polls campaign in the state with a rally in Kaprada taluka of Valsad, which had been a Congress bastion until a few years ago.
The 182-member Gujarat Assembly has 27 seats reserved for the Scheduled Tribes (ST).
Out of these, 14 constituencies in the South Gujarat region have already voted in the first phase on December 1.
Among the South Gujarat seats, BJP currently has seven, the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) two and the rest are with Congress.
The 13 constituencies in Central and North Gujarat will vote in the second phase on December 5. Currently, the BJP has just four seats while Congress has eight. One seat is with an independent candidate.
Some of the key issues in the nine-odd tribal-dominated districts include lack of employment, which results in large-scale migration to other parts of the state every year.
Another main issue is the scarcity of water for drinking and irrigation – be it the southernmost taluka of Kaprada in Valsad, which receives copious rainfall every year, or the temple town of Ambaji in Banaskantha district.
The scarcity of water and lack of irrigation has been a perennial problem faced by farmers for years.
Despite assurances by the political parties over the years, no solution is in sight.
The tribals have always rued the lack of industrial development in their region, besides the absence of basic education and health facilities.
The opposition Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have been highlighting how the BJP had failed in the implementation of the Forest Right Act, which gives rights to tribals on forest land.
Unlike the previous elections, the BJP made a slew of promises during their poll speeches in the tribal belt. Modi made it a point to target the Congress, which has a stronghold on tribal seats, by accusing them of opposing a tribal woman from becoming the President of India.
At various election rallies in tribal areas, Modi said Congress had no respect for the tribal community as it opposed the candidature of Droupadi Murmu in the presidential election held earlier this year.
“Congress has no respect for tribals in the country…We decided to make our tribal daughter (Droupadi Murmu) the president of the country. We went to Congress with folded hands to accept her (support her candidature), but they opposed it. We put all our might and made the tribal daughter win the election,” Modi said.
Modi went on to say that be it Birsa Munda or Govind Guru, the Congress did not give respect to tribal leaders of the country.
This tirade against the Congress was replicated by other BJP leaders including Union Home Minister Amit Shah, UP CM Yogi Adityanath, BJP president J P Nadda and others.
In the tribal heartland of central Gujarat, the poll campaign revolved around promises of freebies. While the Congress and the AAP are promising free electricity, education and other services, the BJP has been highlighting the Central and state projects schemes like the Van Bandhu Kalyan Yogja.
The ruling party stresses how it has given a lot to the electorate and it was payback time by voting for the BJP.
A little down south in the Narmada district, the Statue of Unity (SOU) stands tall on the banks of the Narmada River in Kevadia.
The tourist footfall at SOU has surpassed the one crore mark since it was opened to the public by Modi in 2018.
For the BJP the 182-meter-tall statue of India’s first home minister Sardar Patel is a project that has changed the lives of hundreds of tribals.
However, tribals living in the region are not happy. While the tribal community rues lack of employment opportunities, the business community in Narmada district headquarter Rajpipla about 30 km from SOU, says that the statue hasn’t brought any development in the town.
The local tribal communities have been protesting against the project and the SOU Area Development and Tourism Governance Act that gives the government power to acquire land around SOU for development.
In Chhota Udepur, a Congress fortress for years, this year there will an interesting family battle between the Rathwas.
Chhota Udepur’s sitting MLA Mohansinh Rathwa quit Congress and joined BJP with his two sons Rajendrasinh and Ranjitsinh. BJP gave a ticket to Rajendrasinh. He will be contesting against Congress’s veteran and former minister Naransinh Rathwa’s son Sangramsinh.
People in Chhota Udepur say that voters were angry with Mohansinh for quitting the Congress. This, they say, may result in voting against the BJP.
But Mohansinh, a 10-time MLA, has considerable sway over the tribal community. Hence the region is likely to witness a tough fight.
The BJP has promised Rs 1 lakh crore under the updated Van Bandhu Kalyan Yogjna in its manifesto.
It also promised a one-time grant of Rs 50,000 to tribal students who make it to top-ranking institutes.
The ruling party has pledged to set up eight medical and 10 nursing as well as paramedical colleges in tribal-dominated areas. It has proposed a 4-6 lane Birsa Munda Tribal Development Corridor from Ambaji in North Gujarat to Umbergam in South Gujarat.
This corridor will connect all the tribal districts of the state.
Meanwhile, the Congress, in its manifesto, promised proper implementation of the PESA Act, which will give Gram Sabha the right to decide on the use of local natural resources.
It has assured 100 per cent implementation of the Forests Rights Act. The Congress has promised to withdraw the Par-Tapi river linking project and to revoke the Statue of Unity Area Development -– to return the land of farmers acquired under the Statue of Unity Area Development and Tourism Governance Act.