Promise rights, get votes

Since the Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh Assembly election results are out, it is possible to inquire whether the unhappiness of the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) with their erstwhile elected representatives manifested in the voting patterns in the two States.

The results in Chhattisgarh were particularly startling in the SC/ST constituencies. The ruling BJP was able to garner just three ST seats compared to 11 in 2013, while the Congress and other parties increased their tally to 26 from 18. The BJP won 11% of the total seats and 10% of the reserved ST constituencies.

STs, who are also potential forest rights holders under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, constitute 52% of the total voters in the 29 ST constituencies. The proportion ranges from 20% in the Pathalgaon ST constituency to as much as 79% in Konta. Yet implementation of the FRA has been extremely poor. Innumerable reports point to the subversion of rights under the FRA and the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), 1996.


It is a well-known fact that protesting tribals are designated as Naxalites and imprisoned. Tensions have been bubbling under the surface for a while. A partial reflection of these grievances was already visible in the 2013 elections, where the Congress did slightly better than the BJP in the ST constituencies; whereas in 2018, the BJP was wiped out in these constituencies. The inclusion of the FRA in its manifesto and campaign paid the Congress good dividends.

The results in SC constituencies were no less dramatic. The BJP won nine out of 10 SC seats in Chhattisgarh in 2013. This time it won only two, whereas the Congress and other parties increased their tally from one to eight. The FRA plays to the SC demand for land, but some analysts identify the dilution of the SCs and the STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (PoA), 1989, and harassment of Dalits by cow protectors as other important causes for their voting pattern.

Madhya Pradesh saw a much more competitive election between the two national parties, with the Congress taking a small lead largely due to a big swing in the ST/SC constituencies. While the BJP lost around 30% seats in the general category, it lost 48% seats in the ST category and 36% in the SC category. It would have been impossible for the Congress to form the government in the State without the massive swing in the reserved constituencies. It won 47 out of 82 reserved seats and only 67 out of 148 in the general category.

Overall, while the evidence may not be conclusive, and no single factor is ever responsible for electoral fortunes, it does seem as if forest rights made a difference this time. This is a warning for the new leaders that if they ignore FRA, PESA, and POA, it will be at their own peril.

The writer is a Senior Director, Rights and Resources Group, Washington, DC

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Printable version | Sep 25, 2020 12:24:49 PM |

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