Rajasthan polls: Two sons of Gujarat’s tribal leader up against each other
Tribal leader Chhotubhai Vasava’s two sons are pitted against each other in Rajasthan’s tribal area for the upcoming assembly elections
Gujarati tribal leader Chhotubhai Vasava’s two sons are pitted against each other in Rajasthan’s tribal area for the upcoming assembly elections. His elder son, Mahesh, is leading the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP), which won two seats in the 2018 Rajasthan state polls while the younger one, Dilip, is supporting newly-formed Bharatiya Adivasi Party (BAP), on whose ticket, the two BTP MLAs are contesting this time.
The two MLAs had won from BTP in 2018 and switched over to BAP for 2023 elections.
The two sons’ rivalry has a Gujarat connection.
Before the Gujarat assembly polls in 2022, Mahesh rebelled against his father, who founded BTP in 2017, and did not field seven-time MLA Chhotu Vasava from their home constituency of Jhagadia, forcing the latter to contest as an independent candidate.
Chhotu lost, signalling a dramatic decline in their political influence within Gujarat, and also decimation of BTP, which was unable to win even a single assembly seat in Gujarat.
In 2017, Chhotu and Mahesh had won on BTP tickets there.
Several senior members of the BTP, including the two sitting MLAs in Rajasthan, decided to part ways, culminating in the formation of the Bharatiya Adivasi Party (BAP), six months ahead of the November 25 elections, reshaping politics in tribal dominated southern-eastern Rajasthan.
In at least 17 of the 25 assembly seats in tribal areas of Rajasthan, BTP and BAP candidates are pitted against each other, along with that of the Congress and BJP.
In the heart of the tribal-dominated Salumbar constituency, an 82-year-old Padamsinhji Rajput gestures with a weathered stick toward the dusty lanes near his home in Gur village, pointing out the stagnant landscape that has remained largely unchanged for decades.
“For the last 50 years, not much has altered in these parts. People are still compelled to migrate, and our government employees have gone unpaid for the last five months. A 105-km road project has been sanctioned near our village by the Centre in partnership with the state government, but we don’t see much work done. Talks of a crematorium for our village have also been going on for many years now. Despite having a Congress sarpanch and a BJP MLA in our area, real progress and development seem elusive. Now we hear about BAP and BTP, let’s see what they can do,” he said with disdain over lack of development in the region.
Yogesh Kalasua, a 25-year-old from Aspur village in Dungarpur district, possessing a Master’s degree in English Literature, advocates for tribals to independently contest elections and secure fundamental rights. He expresses admiration for the BAP and their transparent candidate selection process, conducted openly during village gatherings.
In stark contrast to the grandiose displays of the BJP and Congress, with their high-profile rallies and fleet of vehicles, the tribal parties maintain a notably low-key approach. Their campaign strategy relies on grassroots methods, utilising social media and door-to-door canvassing. Their leaders eschew the choppers and grand stages, often found spending evenings in villages, engaging with modest gatherings of a few hundred individuals.
While there are some like Rajput and Kalasua who see some hope from parties like BTP and BAP, many see them to be as vote cutters for the main parties.
Fight for tribal land
In Rajasthan, there are 25 seats reserved for tribal representation, out of which 17 seats fall within the Tribal Sub Plan or the Scheduled Areas.
In the 2013 elections, the BJP secured victory in 18 reserved seats, while the Congress won in seven such seats.
In the 2018 elections, the Congress won 14 reserved seats, the BJP in eight, and the BTP won two (in Banswara region). One ST reserved seat in Bassi was won by independent candidate Laxman Meena who has been fielded by the Congress for the upcoming polls.
The fully tribal areas are Banswara, Dungarpur, and Pratapgarh, while the partly tribal areas constitute Udaipur, Chittorgarh, Sirohi, Rajsamand, and Pali.
According to the Census 2011, total population of scheduled area is 64,63,353 out of which Scheduled Tribes (ST) population is 45,57,917 which is 70.43% of the total population of the Scheduled Area.
“While BAP has gained popularity in a short period of time, BTP still remains a formidable force in the tribal areas. Both the tribal parties carry out extensive door-to-door campaigning. Many of the tribals are still seeking their basic rights from the elections. BTP and BAP will surely cut into Congress and BJP votes in the tribal belt,” said Kunjan Acharya, a political expert based in Udaipur.
The tribals in Rajasthan had started a movement called Jai Bhil Pradesh in 2015 to unite the tribal community across the country from states like Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.
“Our land was taken away; our homes were displaced, and we saw that neither the Congress nor the BJP took a strong stand for us be it the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha. We needed a political front and joined hands to support the BTP. But we found that they too had a high command system like other parties hence we decide to part ways with them,” said Mohanlal Raut, president of BAP who was one of the founding members of Jai Bhil Pradesh.
In July 2020, during the political turmoil within the Congress-led government in Rajasthan following an open rebellion by former deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot against chief Mminister Ashok Gehlot, the BTP extended its support to the ruling party.
Raut pointed out the rift between them and BTP, citing a specific incident when BTP issued a directive to its two MLAs, Rajkumar Roat (Chorasi) and Ramprasad Dindor (Sagwara), to abstain from voting in the Rajya Sabha elections on June 10, 2022. This directive followed a meeting between the BTP legislators and Congress leaders in Udaipur, where they announced their support for the Congress candidates.
He said that in the panchayat polls in Dungarpur district in 2020, the BTP won 13 seats, while the BJP got eight and Congress bagged six.
“Despite emerging as the single largest party, we could not form the board as the Congress and BJP joined hands to keep us out of power. We only want us to be given what we are promised by our Constitution. We gave our 17 points demand to the Congress government in Rajasthan, but they have not fulfilled one. Both, the Centre and the state government does not want to give tribals their rights of land, water and forest. No work has been made for our language and culture. One of our main demands is for a separate state for the people from the four states who speak Bhili language,” said Raut.
Sat Prakash Rana, spokesperson of BJP Delhi who was in Rajasthan as an observer in the tribal areas said that BTP and BAP were small parties and that there was no place for a third front to emerge in Rajasthan in the upcoming elections.
He claimed that the tribal sub plan by the Centre was well in place and that the tribals of Rajasthan were happy with it.
Gujarat Congress president Shaktisinh Gohil, who has been appointed as special observer by the party for Rajasthan polls said his party has given substantial representation to the tribal community in its candidate selection, including in non-ST reserved seats as compared to BJP that provided a lower percentage of representation to the tribal community.
“There is a positive atmosphere for the Ashok Gehlot led government given the welfare schemes and the development works done by Congress in Rajasthan,” he said.
The BTP has promised to halt immigration, develop small industries to generate employment for locals, exempt tribals from Uniform Civil Code and up to 90% reservation in jobs in the tribal sub-plan areas, up from the present 45%, said Velaram Ghogra, president of BTP.
BAP has also made a similar poll promise in its manifesto.