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Forest rights hold the key

Pundits are busy speculating about winners and losers in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. We will know for sure soon, but do past trends give any insight and is there something new this time?

Past trends in both States have been nothing short of dramatic, and this drama has always played out in the tribal reserved constituencies in M.P. Between the elections of 2008 and 2013, 27 Scheduled Tribes (ST) constituencies flipped in the State, i.e. the electorate voted for a different party than on the previous occasion. The same trend was noticeable in the 2008 election, but data are not strictly comparable. The percentage for flipped constituencies in ST areas was 58% while for the general electorate it was 51%. For the Scheduled Castes (SC) constituencies it was 40%. In Chhattisgarh, where the elections were much closer in 2013, the electorate flipped parties across the board. Overall 58% constituencies were flipped, including 55% in ST constituencies and 60% in SC constituencies.

Although ST and SC constituencies comprise 32% and 39% of the total seats in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, respectively, the flipping of SC and ST constituencies led to no change of government because there was no preference for a single party. Overall, 22 constituencies flipped for the BJP, 24 for the Congress and one to another party in Chhattisgarh. In Madhya Pradesh, 67 constituencies flipped for the BJP, 43 for the Congress and seven for other parties. The voters essentially registered their unhappiness with their currently elected representatives. Their displeasure with all parties over many elections is apparent, reflecting a long history of broken promises.

This time, however, may be different for three reasons. First, there is a distinct clamour amongst the tribal communities for recognition of their collective rights on forests under the Forest Rights Act (FRA). They are more organised, forceful and have made it a political issue. Second, after years of demanding social and economic equality, without success, the Dalits have also finally crystallised their demand for the ownership of land of five acres per family. In numerous constituencies, they have joined hands with tribal communities for forest rights recognition as a means of getting collective rights to forest land. Finally, the FRA potential extends beyond ST and SC constituencies, enabling them to make common cause with other rural communities. In 174 out of 217 rural constituencies in Madhya Pradesh, the number of potential FRA rights-holding voters is more than the victory margin. In 69 out of 81 rural constituencies in Chhattisgarh, the number of potential FRA rights-holding voters exceeds the victory margins of the 2013 election. No wonder, FRA implementation figures prominently in the manifestos of major political parties. A combination of these factors may result in a different outcome.

The writer is a Senior Director, Tenure Facility Support Programme at the Rights and Resources Group in Washington, DC


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Printable version | Oct 23, 2021 11:21:51 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/forest-rights-hold-the-key/article25607241.ece

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