You wouldn’t notice the State headquarters of the Gondwana Ganatantra Party (GGP). Near Bhopal’s commercial hub New Market, the GGP — the main tribal party in Madhya Pradesh — operated from an open-air motorcycle repair kiosk with the party banner  hung on a tree above.

The GGP won three seats in 2003, retained its deposit in 10, and tipped the balance against the Congress in some two dozen seats. The party was torn apart by factionalism, jealousies and rumours which many of their leaders now attribute to the Congress and the BJP. In the 2008 polls, a splinter group Rashtriya Gondwana Party (RGP) came second in one seat. Most factions of the party have now reunited and they are contesting 63 seats in alliance with the Janata Dal (United).

 “Our main issues are the protection of our rights over water, forests and land. Our larger demand is a separate Gondwana State covering the Gondi speaking region in MP, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Maharashtra. But in the short term, we want tribal schools to be improved, Gondi to be included in the eight schedule and, most importantly, our livelihood to be protected.” says GGP Vice President Gulzar Singh Markam. Mr. Markam is contesting from Niwas in Mandla. He admits that in the district they are drawing support from former minister Dev Singh Saiyam, who was denied a ticket by the BJP. The GGP has been the Plan B for tribal leaders who fail to get tickets from mainstream parties. Mr. Saiyam however is remaining with the BJP. An increased mobilisation by the GGP, particularly in the districts bordering Chhattisgarh, will split the anti-incumbency vote and ruin the prospects for the Congress, observers say.

The only two parties outside the Congress and the BJP in the assembly are the BSP and the Samajwadi Party. The BSP holds seven seats — MLA Paras Mudgal has defected to the BJP but is not contesting this time — and the SP holds one. In 2008, the BSP won 9.1 per cent in seats contested and the SP won 2.5 per cent. The strongholds of both parties are districts bordering Uttar Pradesh. BSP’s State president I.S. Maurya told The Hindu that the party lost five seats in 2008 to re-counting, a procedure often associated with the ruling party influencing the outcome. “We don’t have a manifesto because we don’t believe in giving sops. We give tickets to winnable candidates of all castes as Dalits, our backbone, remain with us,” he says.

But BSP MLAs in the State have often been poached by the big parties. Mr. Maurya says that this time they have limited the number of tickets to “fresh” BSP members —defectors — to 30. “We are strong in 130 seats. Our objective is to restrict the Congress and BJP to 100 seats each so that there is a hung Assembly. The only stable government must be one with the BSP in it,” he adds. The SP leads an alliance of the CPI, CPI(M) and the Rashtriya Samanta Dal. CPI(M)’s state secretary Badal Saroj explains that their slogan is the formation of a credible opposition. “We have seen the government get away with murder because the Congress allows them to. Communist MLAs will end the farce in the Assembly,” he says.