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Assembly elections: BJP hopes to win over tribal voters in high-stakes Chhattisgarh

As Chhattisgarh gears up for the Assembly elections next month, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) looks to win the support of the tribal population, which has significantly influenced past poll outcomes. In 2018, the BJP suffered a setback in tribal-dominated seats. The recent rallies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and […]

As Chhattisgarh gears up for the Assembly elections next month, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) looks to win the support of the tribal population, which has significantly influenced past poll outcomes. In 2018, the BJP suffered a setback in tribal-dominated seats.

The recent rallies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP chief JP Nadda in the tribal belt and the launch of 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% 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.

CRUCIAL ROLE
“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 said. According to Das, apart from anti-incumbency, the lack of coordination between top BJP tribal leaders and local party workers and left-wing extremism were attributed for the party’s diminishing popularity among tribal leaders.

BJP’S PAST PERFORMANCE
In the 2003 assembly polls, 34 seats in the 90-member House were reserved for the ST category. The BJP registered a whopping victory defeating the then Ajit Jogi-led Congress Government, winning 50 seats including 25 ST seats. The Congress then won nine ST seats. The BJP also formed government in 2008, winning 50 seats with the blessings of tribals with 19 out of the 29 ST seats, while the Congress won 10.

In 2008, delimitation reduced the ST reserved seats from 34 to 29 in the state. In 2013, tribal voters drifted and voted for the Congress, which missed securing absolute majority. The party managed to win 18 out of 29 ST seats but its overall tally was limited to 39. The BJP registered its third consecutive win by clinching 49 seats, including 11 ST seats.

DEFEAT IN 2018
In 2018, the Congress registered a landslide victory, securing 68 seats in the 90-member Assembly. The BJP was reduced to 15 seats, while the Jogi Congress and the BSP bagged five and two seats. Of 29 ST seats, the Congress won 25, BJP-3 and JCC-1. Later, the Congress clinched another ST seat—Dantewada—in a bypoll.This time, the BJP has been focusing on tribal seats and has brought old timers into the fray this time, Das said. The BJP has so far fielded candidates in 86 seats, including all 29 ST seats.
Among the BJP’s key candidates in ST seats are six former state ministers, one sitting MLA, two Lok Sabha members, one former Union minister, three ex-MLAs and a former IAS officer who recently joined the BJP.

STAR CAMPAIGNERS IN TRIBAL BELT
As the election inches closer, BJP’s star campaigners have begun touring tribal-dominated pockets. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah addressed the BJP rallies in Bastar region this month, while Nadda flagged off the party’s second Parivartan Yatra in Jashpur last month.

“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,” BJP leader and former state minister Kedar Kashyap 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 seats, 11 fall in Bastar division while Surguja division has nine. Kashyap has been fielded from the Narayanpur seat in Bastar. 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 had increased under the Congress.

CONGRESS’ STRATEGY
Last week, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel said he was confident of winning ST seats in the upcoming polls 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 Congress 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 seats, but it is now mulling to contest in 60-70 seats.

AAP ATTEMPTS TO MAKE IMPACT
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 make much of an impact.

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