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BJP woos tribals with hope to win high-stakes Chhattisgarh assembly polls

Raipur: As Chhattisgarh gears up for the assembly elections next month, the opposition BJP in the state faces an uphill task to win the support of tribal population, that is said to have significantly influenced the poll outcome in the past.

In the 2018 state polls, the BJP suffered a huge setback in tribal-dominated seats.

According to poll experts, the recent rallies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP chief JP Nadda in the tribal belt and launch of the party’s two Parivartan Yatras from tribal pockets indicate the party’s efforts to woo tribals.

The state elections will be held in two phases on November 7 and 17.

In the 90-member Chhattisgarh assembly, 29 seats are reserved for the Scheduled Tribe (ST) category, which comprises around 32 per cent of the state’s population.

The ruling Congress, which won 25 out of 29 ST-reserved seats in the 2018 assembly polls, is hopeful of bagging more seats than the last time, banking on its government’s tribal welfare schemes.

“Tribals play a crucial role in forming government in the state. In the first elections held in Chhattisgarh in 2003, after the state was formed in 2000, the BJP managed to make deep inroads among tribals, who were once considered staunch supporters of the Congress. But in the next elections, the BJP kept losing hold over them,” Raipur-based poll analyst R Krishna Das told PTI.

Apart from the anti-incumbency, lack of coordination between top BJP tribal leaders and local party workers of their region, long persisting Left Wing Extremism issue were attributed as reasons for the party’s diminishing popularity among tribal leaders, he said.

In the 2003 assembly polls, 34 seats in the 90-member House were reserved for the ST category. The BJP had registered a whopping victory defeating the then Ajit Jogi-led Congress government, winning 50 seats including the 25 ST-reserved seats. The Congress then won 9 ST-reserved seats.

In the 2008 assembly elections, the BJP again formed government, winning 50 seats with the blessings of tribals as it bagged 19 out of the 29 ST-reserved seats, while the Congress won 10 ST-reserved seats.

The delimitation reduced the ST reserved seats from 34 to 29 in the state in 2008.

In the 2013 assembly polls, tribal voters drifted and significantly voted for the Congress, which missed securing absolute majority to form government.

The Congress had managed to win 18 out of 29 ST-reserved seats but its overall tally was limited to 39. The BJP then registered its third consecutive win by clinching 49 seats, including 11 ST-reserved seats.

In 2018, the Congress registered a landslide victory by securing 68 seats in the 90-member assembly. The BJP was reduced to 15 seats, while the JCC (J) and the BSP bagged 5 and 2 seats, respectively.

Out of 29 ST-reserved seats, the Congress won 25, BJP-3 and JCC (J)-1. Later, the Congress clinched two more ST reserved seats – Dantewada and Marwahi – in bypolls.

Eyeing to come back to power in the state, the BJP has been focusing on tribal seats and has brought its old timers into the fray this time, Das said.

The BJP has so far fielded candidates in 86 seats, including all 29 ST-reserved seats.

Among the BJP’s key candidates in ST-reserved seats are six former state ministers including one sitting MLA, two Lok Sabha members (including one Union minister), one former Union minister, three ex-MLAs and a former IAS officer (who recently joined the BJP after quitting his service).

As the election inches closer, BJP’s star campaigners have started touring tribal-dominated pockets of the state.

PM Modi and Amit Shah addressed the BJP rallies in Bastar region this month, while Nadda flagged off the party’s second Parivartan Yatra in tribal-dominated Jashpur last month.

The party’s first Parivartan Yatra was rolled out from tribal-dominated Dantewada district last month.

The Congress tried to end reservation for tribals, and recruitment in government jobs and admission in institutions remained suspended for almost a year, BJP leader and former state minister Kedar Kashyap told PTI.

“In Bastar and Surguja tribal divisions, there was a provision of giving priority to tribals in government jobs recruitment but after 2018, the Congress quashed the provision. All these issues are being raised by the BJP,” the former MLA said.

Asked about the BJP’s target of winning tribal seats, Kashyap claimed, “There is massive resentment against the Congress government among tribals and we will win all 12 seats of Bastar and 14 seats of Surguja divisions. Tribals have understood that the Congress government has done nothing but just cheated them.”

Of the 29 ST-reserved seats in the state, 11 fall in Bastar division while Surguja division has 9 of those seats.

Kashyap has been fielded from his traditional Narayanpur seat (ST) in Bastar division.

On the BJP flagging the issue of religious conversion in tribal pockets in the run up to the polls, Kashyap said, “It is a social issue and we oppose such an act…We don’t see the issue as an advantage in the election as it is a social issue.”

He also claimed that religious conversion is on a rise under the Congress government.

Asked about Sarva Adivasi Samaj’s (SAS) move to contest polls for the first time, Kashyap said everyone has the right to contest elections and ‘we welcome every party’.

In an interview to PTI last week, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel exuded confidence of winning more ST-reserved seats in the upcoming polls than the last time due to his government’s welfare scheme for tribals.

“We have done a lot of work in tribal areas in the last five years. Distribution of forest rights certificates, opening bank branches, new paddy procurement centres, arrangements for minor forest produce procurement, value addition of forest produce and several other steps were taken in the interest of tribals,” Baghel said.

“We have declared support prices for Kodo and Kutki millets. Farmers are also getting the benefit of Nyay schemes. So we have done a lot of work in the tribal areas and we will get its benefit,” the CM said.

The Congress has declared candidates in all 90 seats. State party chief Deepak Baij, ministers Kawasi Lakhma, Mohan Markam, Anila Bhedia and Mohan Markam are among the party’s key tribal faces in the polls.

The SAS, an umbrella organisation of tribal groups, has floated Hamar Raj Party which has so far declared 19 candidates for the polls, including a former IPS officer.

The party earlier announced to field candidates in 50 seats, including all the 29 ST-reserved seats, but it is now mulling to contest in 60-70 seats.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is also trying its luck for the second time in Chhattisgarh, which has always seen binary politics dominated by the BJP and Congress. The Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP has so far announced candidates for 45 seats.

In the 2018 polls, the AAP fielded candidates in 85 of the total 90 seats but failed to open its account in the state.

Polling in the state will be held in two phases on November 7 and 17. While polling in 20 assembly constituencies, including 12 ST reserved, will be held in the first phase, the remaining 70 seats, including 17 for STs, will go to polls in the second phase.

(Published 24 October 2023, 10:57 IST)

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