After the Saurashtra region, constituencies reserved for the Scheduled Tribes could prove hurdles for the Bharatiya Janata Party in Gujarat. In the four ST seats — Dahod, Chhota Udaipur, Bardoli and Valsad — the saffron party has been unable to blunt the Congress’ edge. In the 2009 and 2004 Lok Sabha polls, it bagged only one seat, Dahod and Chhota Udaipur respectively, against the Congress’ three.
However, the BJP is hoping to better its performance this election riding on the ‘Modi factor’ and the candidature of a Congress rebel in the Bardoli (ST) seat in south Gujarat. While Tushar Chaudhary, Union Minister of State for Road Transport and son of former Gujarat Chief Minister Amarsinh Chaudhary, is the Congress candidate from Bardoli, the BJP has fielded his former aide and Congress rebel Prabhu Vasava, Mr. Chaudhary. Mr. Vasava’s popularity and interface with local leadership may go seriously dent Mr. Chaudhary’s chances.
“Gujarat was absent from India’s map, but today it has become synonymous with Modi. For us it is not a question of seeing a Gujarati as PM, but seeing someone from Gujarat take the national stage,” said Mukesh Darbar from Bardoli taluka in Surat.
However, Congress supporter Tabrez Khan felt while Mr. Vasava could not affect Mr. Chaudhary’s position, but Aam Aadmi Party’s Chandubhai Chaudhary was likely to cut into the Congress’ Muslim votes.
There is such resentment against Mr. Chaudhary among the people that in Moticher village, voters from his own community declared a preference for Mr. Vasava. In Khodtalav village in Tapi district, disgruntled farmers, burdened by water taxes, are leaning towards the Janata Dal (United) candidate Jagatsinh Vasava, a retired IAS officer.
“For years, we supported Mr. Chaudhary and the people are worried about Prabhu Vasava’s switch to the BJP. Neither the Congress nor the BJP is talking about our problems. There is no Modi wave here. The JD (U) is the only party which is even talking about Adivasis,” said Sunilbhai Chaudhary, a farmer from Khodtalav.
Dahod is another constituency where the BJP hopes to make gains. Here the Congress has fielded sitting MP Prabha Taviad, who is pitted against Gujarat Minister of State for Tribal Development Jasvantsinh Sumanbhai Bhabhorand KC Munia of the Aam Aadmi Party.
“For the last five years, the BJP government has worked for the welfare of Adivasis. We are going to win Bardoli and Dahod,” said Vijay Rupani, BJP’s State general secretary.
However, lack of access to drinking water and poor implementation of the Forest Rights Act remain nagging issues for the marginalised Adivasi community in Gujarat.
The Chhota Udaipur constituency has been alternating between the Congress’ Naranbhai Rathwa and the BJP’s sitting MP Ramsinh Rathwa respectively since 1998. They are pitted against each other in a straight contest, with a third dimension of Arjun Rathwa of the AAP. The Congress has always won the seat since 1977, with the exception of 1999 and 2009, when it went to Ramsinh Rathwa.
The Valsad seat too has been a Congress bastion, but the BJP managed to breach it thrice in 1996, 1998 and 1999. The two-time Congress MP Kishanbhai Patel is a formidable opponent for the BJP’s KC Patel, who had lost from the Valsad Assembly segment in the past, but was also instrumental in helping the BJP make inroads in the district’s rural areas.
The four ST seats together account for over 60 lakh voters of the total four core voters, about 14 per cent of the total electorate.
“Adivasi issues find no place in the development narrative of Gujarat. Nine months ago, the State government rejected 1.13 lakh claims for forest land rights out of the total 1.82 lakh claims. About 37 Adivasi villages stand to be displaced because of Mr. Modi’s project of building a statue of Sardar Patel. Both the Congress and the BJP have ignored Adivasi interests, using them for votes without implementing concrete policies,” said Romel Sutaria of the Adivasi Vanjan Shramjivi Union.