Chhattisgarh 2018

Chhattisgarh Assembly Elections 2018: Reading the crucial tribal vote

The campaign in a tribal constituency in south Chhattisgarh.  

Nand Kumar Sai, 72, is a sad man as his party, the BJP, has not asked him to campaign during the Assembly election.

“Big leaders are coming. Perhaps they don’t need me,” said Mr Sai, chairperson of National Commission of Scheduled Tribes (NCST).

Three times Lok Sabha and two times Rajya Sabha MP, former president of the BJP in undivided Madhya Pradesh, former Opposition leader and the key tribal face in Chattisgarh was not even asked if he was interested in campaigning in a State where a third of the seats are reserved for the tribals.

Out of 29 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes in the 90-member Assembly, 11 are with the BJP. While 12 of these seats voted last week, the remaining 17 are scheduled to hold elections on November 20.

Numbers game

Both the BJP and the Congress agree that these seats could be crucial in a close race. In 2013, the Congress did well in south Chattisgarh where it bagged eight of 12 seats. In the north, the party got nine seats while the BJP got the remaining eight.

Asked about the chances of the BJP in the tribal areas, Mr Sai, who is also closely associated with the RSS, said he “should not comment against the party.” But he did raise issues that could impact the polls.

“Firstly, there are serious attempts to convert the tribal land into non-tribal land. Second, the tribal seats are reducing. When Chattisgarh was formed [2000] there were 34 seats reserved for the tribals, now it is 29; I can’t understand how only the tribal percentage and seats are decreasing while others are growing,” the tribal leader said.

He also flagged other concerns — from “non-implementation of Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act in the tribal dominated Fifth Schedule areas, non-availability of teachers in schools with tribal children, “planned” attempts to acquire tribal land” to violation of the law in Naxal-dominated areas.

Dealing with naxalism

“They [BJP] could not stop naxalism and the only solution that they could think of is to arrest tribals, while police tortures women and fake encounters are continuing,” said the NCST chairperson. National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) figures are available only up to 2015, while data published over a period indicate Chhattisgarh has highest occupancy rates of jails in the country.

“I am often considered anti-party for raising such issues,” said Mr Sai.

Higher turnout

Four of the 12 tribal seats in the first phase saw a higher percentage compared to 2013. Both Congress and the BJP claimed that the “extra” votes would boost their chances. State Minister of Tribal Development and School Education Kedar Kashyap said the BJP was receiving “an overwhelming tribal support” in 2018.

He denied any “upper caste attempt” to reduce the number of tribal seats or sidestep tribal leadership in policy making. “I’m the BJP’s candidate for the fourth time and fully participate in policy making,” he said. Tribals received individual and community rights over forest land in “large numbers” in Chattisgarh and “these will benefit BJP,” he said.

Apart from seats reserved for tribals, other seats also have a large number of tribal voters. Jagdalpur and Ambikapur have more than 50% tribal electors.

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Printable version | Jul 22, 2021 10:18:29 PM |

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