Seeking the tribal vote

Seeking the tribal vote

Scheduled tribes, who account for 45 lakh or over 12 per cent of Gujarat's electorate, dominate areas that traditionally used to be Congress strongholds. However, the party's sway is no longer total, as seen in 2002 when the BJP won more reserved seats.

This time, with the BJP facing resentment in the Saurashtra-Kutch region and staring at possible losses there, it has sensed the need to tap the ST vote bank spread across 34 constituencies, 27 of them ST-reserved, in Valsad, Navsari, Dangs, Dahod, Narmada, Vadodara, Banaskantha and Sabarkantha districts. Chief Minister Narendra Modi announced several sops for tribals just a few months before the Assembly polls.

Of the 26 ST-reserved seats in 2007, the BJP had won 11 to the Congress's 14, ceding some of the ground it had snatched in 2002 with 13 seats to the Congress's 11. In 1998, the BJP had trailed the Congress eight seats to 15.

"Today, a large number of tribals support the BJP unlike in the 1980s when the Congress would hold sway over the adivasis," said social activist Achyut Yagnik. "The change has come over time with a number of factors such as penetration of the Hindutva ideology in tribal regions, emergence of middle class among small groups of beneficiaries of reservation, and some tribals joining modern Hindu sects. Realising the possible offset it might face in Saurashtra, the BJP is clearly trying to increase its tally in the tribal belt this time."

Modi recently announced that over 75,000 applications under the Forest Rights Act, submitted by tribals with claims to forest resources but rejected "on technical grounds", would now be reassessed. Further sops included the formation of two districts, Chhota Udepur and Aravalli, both tribal-dominated, besides new taluka of Poshina in Sabarkantha.

The government's Vanbandhu Kalyan Yojana, launched in 2007 for tribal development with a Rs 15,000-crore budget, has been extended for another five years. The government has claimed that it has so far spent around Rs 13,000 crore under the Vanbandhu Kalyan Yojana on skill development and employment, helping 3.4 lakh tribal households rise above the poverty line, providing concrete houses to 2.7 lakh BPL families, and giving pension to around 2 lakh tribals.

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