Problems increase for BJP as Gujarat Adivasi protests over misuse of quota benefits

As if the Patidars protest against the party was not enough for the BJP to handle, the Adivasi’s have also started an anti-government campaign in Gujarat.

BJP, some time back was quite confident about winning the assembly elections this time also and continuing its reign in Gujarat and even the surveys predicted the same. However, the dramatic change in the course of events in the poll-bound state is telling a different story altogether.

On Tuesday, the Patidars, who had been holding its decision to support Congress from a long time also announced that the community was happy with the suggestions put forth by Congress regarding 20% reservation to the Patidars under the OBC quota. Now with almost the Patidars, the Dalits and the OBC backing Congress, BJP is on muddy water.

To add spice to the drama, as reported recently the Adivasi belt in Gujarat have also started protesting against the ruling BJP over the misuse of reservation benefits meant for Scheduled Tribes. With less than a month left for the state to go for polls, BJP was trying hard to gain back the confidence of the Adivasis, in order to compensate for the loss of the Patidar voters.

Patidars have been one of the oldest vote banks of BJP, and since the widening differences between the two, the party was somehow aware that it will lose the support of the Patidars. In order to fill in the erosion of the Patidras, BJP was counting on to the votes of the Adivasis, but it seems like the fate is not favoring the party as even they have rebelled against the ruling government in Gujarat.

The Adivasi revolts against the state government are related to the large number of Scheduled Tribe certificates allegedly distributed by the state government over the last decade to members of Rabri, Bharwad, and Charan communities. Back in 1956, these communities residing in the Gir forest were granted the status of Scheduled Tribe. The status was given to only those who were living in the Gir forest region and not the others.

The forefathers of Rabri, Bharwad and Charan communities lived in the region back when the status was granted, but with the time, these communities moved out. Pradip Garashiya, president of Samast Adivasi Samaj, who is leading the agitation said that the main reason for the protests of the Adivasis is that though the status was only for resident od Gir forest, even those people are enjoying the benefits of the status who moved out of the region.

He also added that these communities who moved out but continue to use the scheduled tribe status were not Adivasis but nomadic pastoralists. These protesting Adivasis were also having a problem with the government, because the ruling BJP had issued two notifications in 2007 and 2017, allowing the Scheduled Tribe status to even those who moved out of the Gir forests.

Pradip Garashiya said that “There was nothing wrong with the 1956 order It became problematic only when Gujarat government issued notifications – first in 2007 and then in January 2017 – allowing descendants of the forest-dwellers anywhere to obtain ST certificates, thereby threatening to dilute reservation benefits meant for tribals.”

The notifications further came into notice when three months back the state recruited 68 deputy superintendents of police and deputy collectors to posts reserved for the Scheduled Tribes. The Adivasis revolted when they found out that out of the 68 recruits, 35 of them belonged to Rabri, Bharwad and Charan communities.

Following series of protests demonstrated by the Adivasis over the misuse of the benefits of the Scheduled Tribes, the Gujarat government was forced to cancel the notifications issued both in 2007 and 2017.

The problem for the ruling party is now that even after the cancellation of the notifications, the Adivasis have continued to protest, demanding that the Scheduled Tribe certificates given to the descendants of Gir communities who no longer live in the forest should be declared invalid.

Adding to the tensions of BJP, 116 odd Scheduled Caste groups have jointly called for a  state-level Adivasi convention on 18 Nov, to discuss and decide about the future actions that need to be taken and also to finalize their political approach towards the upcoming assembly elections.

Pradip Garashiya informed that “Besides representatives of 116 tribal organisations, the convention at Vyra [in Tapi district] will be attended by presidents of all 29 tribal sub-castes in Gujarat as well as office-bearers of district-level tribal bodies.”

Responding to the rising unrest of the Adivasis, the BJP MP from Bharuch and the former minister of state for tribal affairs, Mansukh Vasava, admitted that the benefits for the tribals were being misused, but he also held Congress equally responsible for it. “It is true that the benefits of reservation for tribals are being misused by others, Elected representatives of both the Congress and the BJP are responsible for this mess because the misuse is happening since 1956. If something is not done quickly, the agitation may engulf the entire tribal belt,” he said.

The rebelling Adivasis form 15% of the total population of Gujarat and have the decisive vote in 27 reserved constituencies of the total 168 seats. Ever since the Patidars have revolted against the BJP, the party has been trying hard to re-strengthen its vote bank by gaining the support of these Adivasis.

During the last assembly elections, BJP managed to get 10 seats of the 27 and 16  were nailed by the Congress and one went into the pocket of the Janata Dal (United)’s Chhotubhai Vasava. In 2007 the figures were almost the same where Congress won 16 of the 26 reserved seats, BJP got nine and JD(U) got 1.

However, even after the protest, the BJP is confident is changing the numbers this time taking a much bigger chunk of the reserved seats. This confidence of the otherwise anxious party comes in wake of the recent work that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its so-called cultural affiliates have done in the tribal belt. RSS is BJP’s parent organisation and last year in Dec the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had addressed a meeting of swayamsevaks and pracharaks from the region at Vansda in Navsari district.

Even though BJP is aiming for more than 10 seats from the 27 reserved constituencies of the Adivasis, the story might have a different ending. Congress had won 16 seats in 2007 and 2012 and one went to JD(U) each time. Now with Chotubhai Vasava also with the Congress and the Adivasis revolting against the BJP, it may be difficult for the party to get to its goal.

Meanwhile, the Congress has not left this opportunity unattended to win the faith of the protesting Adivasis. Congress Gujarat Working President Tushar Choudhary said that “The unrestrained distribution of ST certificates by the BJP government over the past few years is at the root of this problem. If this is not corrected, these cardholders will end up diluting the benefits that the genuine tribals should get.”

If BJP fails to address this problem at the earliest, it might end up losing he already few supporters left with the party.

The Gujarat assembly elections will be held on 9 and 14 Dec in two phases and the results will be announced on 18 Dec along with the results of Himachal Pradesh assembly elections held on 9 Nov.