Lunavada: Tribals in the eastern part of Gujarat feel that both BJP and Congress have failed to address their issues even after 52 years of formation of the state.
The tribal voters spread over 12 districts of eastern Gujarat have sway over around 30 seats out of which 27 have been marked as Scheduled Tribes seats after the new delimitation orders.
For the last many years, Congress has maintained its upper hand in winning these seats but BJP is trying hard to woo the tribal voters and have succeeded to some extent too.
In the 2007 elections, Congress got 14, BJP 11 and JD (U) one of the total 26 seats. One tribal seat has increased in the state after delimitation. With 14 percent tribal population in the state, these seats are crucial for any party to win elections comfortably.
Tribal activists feel that successive governments have failed to understand the issues of the community and address them in a time-bound manner.
"Unfortunately, political parties have been unable to solve the land and forest problems faced by the tribal community. Our problems can be addressed only by a government formed by tribals," state chief of Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Mahasangh Lalubhai Vasava told a news agency.
Echoing similar views, founder of Bhasha Research Centre and Adivasi Academy Ganesh Devy said political parties have failed to understand the tribal culture in the state.
The former professor of English at MS University said that close to 14 percent of the state population comprises tribal community and there is not a single university for students from these communities to study in tribal districts.
"There is not a single railway line connecting the eastern belt from Banaskantha, Sabarkantha to Dangs," Devy rued.
Lunavada-based tribal activist Kanjibhai Patel said while both the political parties have taken the tribal community for a ride, the state government`s slow progress in implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 has alienated the tribal community from the BJP.
He said land entitlements have been provided to only 18 percent of tribal community land holders by the state.
"The slow movement on this issue coupled with the fact that Congress party`s ability to raise issues of tribal community and help it reach a conclusion has forced the community to lean towards the Congress.”
"BJP`s work for tribal community is more on paper and less in action while the Congress has at least tried to address their issues. This is primarily the reason why the tribal community has been the traditional vote bank of the Congress party," he said.
Notwithstanding these factors, the BJP exudes confidence of winning at least 20 of the 27 ST seats across the 12 districts.
BJP ST Morcha president Ramsinh Rathva told a news agency, "We will win 20 of the 27 seats across the 12 tribal districts. The Congress might have held sway over the tribal community seats earlier on but this time, the BJP will emerge victorious on majority of the seats."
Reacting to allegations of high malnutrition rate among tribal people, Rathva said, "If the Congress party was really concerned about the issue, they should have addressed it when they were in power for 40 years in the state."
Congress ST cell president Naranbhai Rathwa countered the claims made by BJP government, saying that the government has not utilised funds for the benefit of tribal community.
The former MP claimed that the state government has failed to provide basic facilities like drinking water, proper roads and electricity connections in these areas.
"The Congress party is confident of retaining seats in tribal districts. BJP is only winning in the name of Modi. Their MLAs, even in tribal districts, have not done any constructive work.”
"The party will win majority of the seats in Central and North Gujarat and I`m saying this on the basis of grass-roots level work undertaken by the party," Rathwa claimed.
Senior Congress leaders have left no stone unturned to retain the tribal community seats. While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed a rally in Vansda in Navsari which voted in the first phase, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi took part in poll rallies in Bhiloda in Sabarkantha and Jhalod in Dahod.