Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee President Kantilal Bhuria is the tribal face of the Congress. A Bhil tribal from Jhabua, Mr. Bhuria has represented Ratlam in the Lok Sabha since 1998. He was an MLA from 1980 to 1997 in the undivided Madhya Pradesh Vidhan Sabha, and is seen as a dark horse in the race for the CM’s chair. Mr. Bhuria spoke to Pheroze L. Vincent on issues concerning Scheduled Tribes in the coming polls.

Q: The BJP holds 30 of the 47 seats reserved for STs. Can you explain their popularity?

A: They had made a lot of false promises. They said they’ll give land and free power and jobs. Tribals and Dalits now realise they have been cheated by a party of looters. They cannot get anything— a below poverty line ration card, a caste certificate or even file a First Information Report in a police station— without paying bribe.

Q: What is your party promising for tribal people?

A: We will give them pattas for the lands of their ancestors and they won’t have to run around to get it. Single-bulb power connections will be free. There are lakhs of claims under the Forest Rights Act pending. These will be cleared. Law and order is a huge problem and crimes against tribal people are rampant. We will crack down hard on criminals and restore confidence in government.

Q: Despite such a large number of tribal people, most parties don’t have tribal leaders?

A: We have many educated youth. It is the Rahul Gandhi formula to attract good people. We can attract such youth more effectively once we come to power. Tribals are present not only in the reserved seats. They can decide the winner in 34 other seats too. Once we convince them that the government will work for them, they will join in large numbers.

Q: Is your culture and language in danger?

A: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has been interfering in our villages and is misguiding our people. There are allegations of rape by their workers. I have told our leaders to remain alert. We will never allow ourselves to be fooled.

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