Rajasthan: Congress and BJP Join Hands to Scuttle the Rise of Bharatiya Tribal Party

In a recent election to the post of the zila pramukh, the Congress thwarted the election of the BTP candidate and instead extended support to the BJP candidate.

Jaipur: The recent Panchayat and Zila Parishad polls in Rajasthan have laid bare the desperation with which the Congress and the BJP have tried to thwart tribal movement in the state.

The two national rival parties have extended support to each other to ensure that the Bharatiya Tribal Party’s (BTP) candidate is not elected as the zila pramukh (chairperson for this Zila Parishad) in Rajasthan’s tribal belt of Dungarpur.

In the elections to the 27-seat Dungarpur Zila Parishad held earlier this month, the BTP candidate Parwati Doda secured 13 votes, while the Congress and the BJP obtained six and eight votes respectively. Doda was short of just one vote from the halfway mark (14 in this case) needed to be elected as the zila pramukh.

The zila pramukh is chosen amongst the elected members of the Zila Parishad. Each elected member has to nominate a name and the candidate who secures the largest number of nominations becomes the zila pramukh.

When it came to the selection of the zila pramukh, the BTP expected the Congress party, whom it had supported during the Rajya Sabha polls and the political showdown between chief minister Ashok Gehlot and his former deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot this year, to extend support to it with just one vote to its candidate. However, the Congress, with its six votes, joined hands with the BJP and paved the way for BJP candidate Surya Ahari to be elected as the zila pramukh, with 14 nominations.

This incident has made clear that both the Congress and the BJP are wary of the BTP’s increasing popularity in Dungarpur.

The condition of both the national parties in this tribal area can be inferred from the fact that the BTP, which is still not a “recognised” party as per the standards set by the Election Commission of India, has compelled the two arch-rivals to come together to save face.

Also read: Ground Report: How the Bharatiya Tribal Party Is Making Its Mark in Rajasthan

The Congress and the BJP are also dreading the BTP’s aim to expand its support in the nearby tribal areas of Banswara, Pratapgarh and Udaipur.

In Southern Rajasthan, where the Bhil tribe holds a decisive vote share, the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) led by the Bhils has been gaining prominence. In its maiden electoral contest in 2018, the party effortlessly won two of the four Scheduled Tribes (ST) reserved seats – Chorasi and Sagwara – in the tribal belt of Dungarpur, while the Congress and the BJP won the remaining seats. At the third seat in Dungarpur, namely Aspur, the difference between the votes secured by the BTP candidate Umesh and BJP’s winning candidate was merely 5,330.

In the 2013 assembly elections, the BJP had won all the four seats of Dungarpur and in the 2008 polls, the Congress had secured these four seats. This is the primary reason why the Congress and the BJP are not able to come to grips with the advances made by the party led by the Bhil tribe.

BTP has been striving to protect the interests and rights of the tribal population in Dungarpur. The mandate has gone down well with the tribal youth, who are further persuading elders to back the party.

The BTP is focused on delivering on its 17-point agenda dealing with various rights and interests of tribals that have been neglected by successive state governments led by the Congress and the BJP over decades.

“We are aiming to ensure the basic rights of the tribals which include access to drinking water, government jobs, right over forest land and implementation of Schedule five of the Constitution,” Kanti Bhai Roat, a BTP member in Dungarpur, told The Wire.

Chandulal Baranda from Dungarpur said that the tribals didn’t have access to drinking water until the BTP made its way into the state assembly.

“We could not carry out agricultural activities because the irrigation facility was given to only the rich, upper-caste farmers and to the city,” said Baranda.

In its election manifesto, the BTP promised that the Mahi-Galiakot and Kadana-Genji pipeline projects would be implemented to provide water from the Mahi and Kandana dams to the Galiakot and Genji villages of Dungarpur respectively.

Also read: Rajasthan: BJP Leads in Panchayat Samiti and Zila Parishad Elections

In September this year, the tribals in Dungarpur also staged protests demanding the recruitment of reserved category candidates to the 1,167 vacant unreserved positions for teachers from 2018, which is one of the 17 demands of the BTP listed in its manifesto.

Relations between the Congress and the BTP strained after a Congress MLA from Bagidora in Rajasthan’s Banswara Mahendra Jeet Malviya levelled serious allegations against the two BTP MLAs last month. He claimed that each of them took Rs 5 crore from the Congress to extend their support to the party for the Rajya Sabha polls and during the floor test necessitated due to the infighting between Gehlot and Pilot.

Already upset over such allegations, the outright denial of the post of the zila pramukh in Dungarpur has further infuriated BTP. It has now declared that it will withdraw its support for the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government in Rajasthan.

“BTP always extended support to both the Congress and the BJP but they don’t reciprocate. We have been raising the issues that are central to the tribals which is why we are getting massive support,” BTP’s national president Maheshbhai Vasava told The Wire.

The Congress workers in Dungarpur say that the party’s move to support the BJP has severely damaged its reputation in the region.

“In the remote areas, it’s very crucial to maintain the trust of the public. Now, how do we assure the tribals that the Congress supports their interests?” a Congress party worker in Dungarpur said, on the condition of anonymity.

The Congress has not offered any explanation for supporting the BJP instead of BTP. However, the BTP has said that the Congress was hand in glove with the BJP. “The BJP-Congress ‘coalition’ was hidden for so many years. BTP may not have been able to make its Chairperson even after winning, but it has certainly exposed that the BJP and the Congress are the same,” BTP founder Chhotubhai Vasava tweeted on Friday.