Even three generations later, Indira Gandhi commands an unparalleled respect among the tribal population of Madhya Pradesh.
The polling for the Madhya Pradesh Assembly Election will be held on November 28. While the various political leaders including Congress President Rahul Gandhi and BJP President Amit Shah are trying hard to ace the ‘I-Am-More-Hindu-than-you’ race, the real path to the state’s Vidhan Sabha passes through its vast tribal belt. In Madhya Pradesh, the tribal population accounts for 21% of the entire state population. It is also the highest tribal population in the country.
Electorally the tribal community is more significant and out of the total 230 assembly seats, 47 seats are reserved for the Scheduled Tribes. More than 50% of the state’s tribal population is concentrated in Dhar, Jhabua, and Mandla districts while Khargaon, Chhindwara, Seoni, Sidhi, Singrauli, and Shahdol districts have 30–50% population that is of tribes. According to the 2011 census, the Adivasi population in Madhya Pradesh was 73.34 million. There were 46 recognized Scheduled Tribes and three of them have been identified as “Special Primitive Tribal Groups” in the State.
Thus, it wasn’t much surprised when the current Chief Minister of the state Shivraj Singh Chauhan showered the community with promises of housing or even beat drums dancing with the community to woo their votes. Congress, on the other hand, promised the community of land rights. Rahul Gandhi even addressed a meeting of the Adivasi Ekta Parishad at the Ambedkar Stadium in Morena in October. Just in time for the election, the party also successfully managed to rope in former Jai Adivasi Yuva Shakti national convener Hiralal Alawa to contest Manawar seat on Congress ticket.
The Tribals and BJP:
BJP which is widely considered as an upper caste party has been successful in bagging the tribal votes since last one decade. It was in 2003 assembly polls that the BJP won 67 SC/ST seats. In the 2008 assembly election, the BJP won 54 of these seats. In 2013, BJP performed exceedingly well on the SC/ST reserved seats. Out of total 47 ST seats, it emerged victorious on 31.
A major part of BJP’s successful penetration in the tribal region has to be credited to its ideological parent RSS. The Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram played a significant role in diverting the tribal vote to BJP with their anti-conversion operation ahead of 2013 assembly elections. However, this time the fear of annulment of the SC/ST Act seems to have ricocheted in the minds of the tribal community. Despite the sops offered by the ‘Mama’ Shivraj Chouhan, the tribal belt has seemingly made up its mind to vote BJP out.
Congress trying to woo Tribals:
The Congress has sensed the anger among the Tribal community against the Shivraj Singh government. Even if the party manages to win 40 ST seats and 20 SC seats, it can easily have an edge over the BJP. The Congress manifesto also promises lease rights to Adivasis and nutrition allowance for most backward Adivasi groups being raised to ₹1,500 from the existing ₹1,000. For years, the tribal belt has remained Congress’ bastion though, after the decade-long rule of Digvijaya Singh as CM, the SC/ST community showed a significant shift towards the BJP. But the Congress is hopeful for the expected homecoming of the tribal voters in 2018 elections. The party has also used the ‘Indira’ card to woo the voters.
The ‘Indira’ factor:
Almost a week ago, at a rally in Jhabua, Jyotiraditya Scindia was addressing the crowd. To the 7000 odd people who attended the rally he appealed to vote for the Congress describing it as “ye Indira Mai ki party hai (this is mother Indira Gandhi’s party).” The party realises that even three generations later, Indira Gandhi commands an unparalleled respect among the tribals.
So much so that the tribals of Padalya village in Khargaon district worship her as ‘Indira Mai’. Moreover, the village has a temple of Indira Gandhi. Since the last 30 years, there has been not one day when the worshipping has stopped. Even today, the chants of ‘Goddess Mother Indira’ echo in the village. The temple was constructed after the death of Indira Gandhi in 1984.
While most of India remembers Emergency as the black chapter of the Indian Democracy, the tribals in this area swear by Indira Gandhi’s twenty-point programme. They say that the village got a high school, roads and electricity as part of Indira Gandhi’s’ twenty-point programme. She also helped to make these villages self-sufficient and to repay the loans. The inauguration of the temple was one of the most controversial affairs during 1988. What was remarkable that the inauguration was attended by 30,000 Adivasis.
Even three decades later, it is the ‘Indira Mai’ who has been able to keep the emotional connect between the Congress and Tribals.
Having witnessed the fierce and heated election campaign, it is to be seen who the tribals give their mandate to? What will prevail- Shivraj Mama’s sops or the devotion to Indira Mai?